September 13, 2007

Don't Close Your Blinds

Shortly after this war began, I received an email from a good friend. My daughter had just turned four, and her Papa was, quite literally, at the point of the tip of the spear for OIF. The body of that email contained what is, to this day, the best analogy I've seen that depicts not only what kind of enemy we're fighting, but also why we're fighting them over there right now. Obviously, I received this before Saddam was found under his rock. However, his brand of extremism was no different than al Qaeda's, so in the interest of relevance, I've changed the name from Saddam to al Qaeda. I've been saving this for 3 years now, so that when my daughter asks me why Papa had to go away again, I can tell her.

Don't Close Your Blinds
The other day, my nine year old son wanted to know why we were at war. My husband looked at our son and then looked at me. My husband and I were in the Army during the Gulf War, and we would be honored to serve and defend our Country again today. I knew that my husband would give him a good explanation. My husband thought for a few minutes and then told my son to go stand in our front living room window.
He told him, "Son, stand there and tell me what you see?"
Our son replied, "I see trees and cars and our neighbor's houses."
"OK, now I want you to pretend that our house and our yard is the United States of America, and you are President Bush."
Our son giggled and said, "OK."
"Now, Son, I want you to look out the window and pretend that every house and yard on this block is a different country."
"OK Dad, I'm pretending."
"Now I want you to stand there and look out the window and see a man come out of his house with his wife. He has her by the hair. and he is hitting her. You see her bleeding and crying. He hits her in the face and throws her on the ground. Then he starts to kick her to death. Their children run out and are afraid to stop him. They are crying. They are watching this but do nothing because they are kids and afraid of their father. You see all of this, Son. What do you do?"
"Dad?"
"What do you do, Son?"
"I call the police, Dad."
"OK. Pretend that the police are the United Nations. They take your call, listen to what you know and saw, but they refuse to help. What do you do then, Son?"
"Dad...but the police are supposed to help!" My son starts to whine.
"They don't want to because they say it's not their place, or your place, to get involved, and you should stay out of it." My husband explains.
"But Dad...he killed her!" My son exclaims.
"I know he did, but the police told you to stay out of it. Now, I want you to look out that window and pretend you see our neighbor, who you're pretending is al Qaeda, turn around and do the same thing to his children."
"Daddy...he kills them?"
"Yes, Son, he does. What do you do?"
"Well, if the police don't want to help, I will go and ask my next door neighbor to help me stop him." Our son says.
"Son, our next door neighbor sees what is happening and refuses to get involved as well. He refuses to open the door and help you stop him."
"But Dad, I NEED help! I can't stop him by myself!"
"WHAT DO YOU DO, SON?" Our son starts to cry. "OK, no one wants to help you. The man across the street saw you ask for help and saw that no one would help you stop him. He stands taller and puffs out his chest. Guess what he does next, Son?"
"What, Daddy?"
"He walks across the street to the old lady’s house, breaks down her door and drags her out. He steals all her stuff and sets her house on fire, and then...he kills her. He turns around and sees you standing in the window and laughs at you. WHAT DO YOU DO?"
"Daddy..."
"WHAT. DO. YOU. DO?"
Our son is crying and he looks down and he whispers, "I close the blinds, Daddy."
My husband looks at our son with tears in his eyes and asks him... "Why?"
"Because Daddy.....the police are supposed to help people who needs it....and they won't help. You always say that neighbors are supposed to HELP neighbors, but they won't help either...they won't help me stop him...I'm afraid....I can't do it by myself, Daddy.....I can't look out my window and just watch him do all these terrible things and...and.....do nothing...so....I'm just going to close the blinds....so I can't see what he's doing........and I'm going to pretend that it is not happening."
I start to cry. My husband looks at our nine year old son standing in the window, looking pitiful and ashamed at his answers to my husbands questions and he tells him...."Son..."
"Yes, Daddy."
"Open the blinds because that man.... he's at your front door...WHAT DO YOU DO?"
My son looks at his father, anger and defiance in his eyes. He balls up his tiny fists, looks his father square in the eyes and without hesitation he says, "I DEFEND MY FAMILY, DAD! I'M NOT GONNA LET HIM HURT MOMMY OR MY SISTER, DAD!! I'M GONNA FIGHT HIM, DAD. I'M GONNA FIGHT HIM!!!"
I see a tear roll down my husband's cheek. He grabs our son to his chest, hugs him tight, and cries. Then he whispers, "It's too late to fight him. He's too strong, and he's already at YOUR front door, Son.....you should have stopped him BEFORE he killed his wife. You HAVE to do what's right, even if you have to do it alone. Before it's too late."
This is why we are at war in Iraq. Good people standing by, letting evil happen is the greatest evil of all. Our President is doing what is right. We, as a free nation, must understand that this war is a war for all humanity. We must defeat that evil, so that we can continue to live in a free world where we are not afraid to look out our window. You must never be afraid to do what is right, even if you have to do it alone. So that, in the future, our children will never have to close their blinds.

I couldn't have said it better.

Posted by Sly at 10:26 PM | Comments (28) | TrackBack

August 31, 2007

War. And Peace.

I've been told I have an unhealthy obsession with war. If that is true, and I suppose it is possible, it would not be because I love conflict.

Not that. Never that.

It would be because I hate and fear it so.

Somewhere in her basement my mother has a black and white photograph of me. I must have been about three years old at the time. I'm standing with a gaggle of neighborhood children, hands on hips, one of my Mom's cast off purses clutched fiercely under my arm. Blonde curls and rosy cheeks notwithstanding, I am in charge of everything; a miniature She Who Must Be Obeyed ready to take on imaginary monsters, wayward puppies and anything else that requires a gentle but firm talking to. But all my bottled up sassiness was just an act.

Because I remember, too, how much I hated it when the evening news came on. Forty five years later I still recall running from the room to hide on the stairs with my hands over my ears, because I never could bear to hear that anyone had been hurt. To this day I cannot stand to watch the news. I read newspapers, instead.

All the same, this morning I didn't intend to write about war. I started out to write about children:


If you’ve somehow managed to miss the story—which would be quite an accomplishment at this point—CBS had 40 kids out in a New Mexico ghost town this summer to film a reality show in which the children, ages 8-15, were to build their own society, compete for prizes, bicker, befriend, and of course, be filmed.

CBS is now under fire because, due to some serious mistakes on the network’s part (and allegations that it tried to conceal those mistakes by deflecting inspectors), the production may have fallen afoul of New Mexico’s child labor laws. There were also four injuries on set. One little girl, whose mother has filed a complaint against CBS, was splashed with grease while cooking. Three other kids were treated after ingesting small amounts of bleach from an unmarked bottle. None of the injuries were serious, and they were all treated promptly.

Reading Mary Katherine's words, my thoughts drifted back to my sons' growing up years. They included camping trips with axes, gasoline, chainsaws, knives. In my nightstand I keep cherished photos of a long ago trip to New England. The boys built a rock lined fire pit, chopped firewood, cut down saplings and built wobbly camping structures. After a hard day's work the Testosterone Trio sat around the fire, looking excessively manly. The paterfamilias was captured with a cigar hanging out of his mouth, his progeny clowning around with hatchet (relax, no one was injured). All three look tired, dirty, sweaty, and extremely happy. Not a single antibacterial wipe, Gameboy, or soda in sight but somehow - miraculously - everyone survived.

But this ancient rite of manliness (though it no doubt violated who knows how many misguided but well meaning child labor and safety ordinances - just think of the second-hand smoke!) pales in comparison to those practiced by less effete societies:

Men are made, not born... Unlike women, men must take actions, undergo ordeals, or pass tests in order to become men...

Culture after culture features rites of passage from boyhood to manhood. Only select men can achieve “manhood,” and it must be won individually. In many cultures’ initiation rituals, older males systematically inflict pain and injury on young ones, who must hold up without flinching, or face life-long shame. Men who fail the test become “negative examples … held up scornfully to inspire conformity.” The particulars of these rituals vary by cultural context. In fishing communities, would-be men go on dangerous expeditions into the water. In hunting cultures they risk their lives in hunting exploits. In societies with frequent warfare, young males must participate in war – and, for some, kill an enemy – before being called a man...

These practices recur in cultures worldwide that “have little else in common,” including those with frequent or infrequent war, and simple or complex social organization. In East Africa, boys endure “bloody circumcision rites by which they become true men. They must submit without so much as flinching under the agony of the knife. If a boy cries out while his flesh is being cut, if he so much as blinks an eye or turns his head, he is shamed for life as unworthy of manhood.”... Pueblo Indian boys aged 12–15 are “whipped mercilessly…[and] expected to bear up impassively under the beating to show their fortitude.”

How very odd that we in this most affluent and industrialized of nations claim to admire the naturalness and simplicity of aboriginal cultures. And yet we seem to be turning our backs on the acquired wisdom of uncounted generations of human experience - on what is an otherwise universal human practice: the ritual toughening of young men by enduring hardship; the offering of a chance to prove (or is it to learn?) that they can endure pain and suffering without complaint? And perhaps this exercise is not only intended to teach others. Perhaps it is intended to allow the participant to take his own measure, to discover the strength that lies within?

Is it really a sign of our cultural advancement that, where once we sought to toughen our children, to build character and endurance against a world that is often harsh and unforgiving, we now seek to shield them against even the most innocuous of life's little misfortunes? With affluence and the relative absence of discord we have become hypersensitive to discomfort; so much so that we now strive not only to erase all signs of strife from our present lives, but to airbrush all mention of violence and unpleasantness from the past as well:

"If you want peace, prepare for war.” Thus counseled Roman general Flavius Vegetius Renatus over 1,600 years ago. Nine centuries before that, Sun Tzu offered essentially the same advice, and it’s to him that Vegetius’s line is attributed at the beginning of a film that I saw recently at Oslo’s Nobel Peace Center. Yet the film cites this ancient wisdom only to reject it. After serving up a perverse potted history of the cold war, the thrust of which is that the peace movement brought down the Berlin Wall, the movie ends with words that turn Vegetius’s insight on its head: “If you want peace, prepare for peace.

What happens when we, as a nation, cease to study war?

To study history is to gain perspective, to place current events in their proper context in the larger scheme of human (and non-human) events. Without it, the daily drip-drip-drip of news stories becomes a trickle, then a current, then a raging flood that sweeps us up and carries us away, powerless to steer our course much less raise our heads from the maelstrom long enough to sense our direction. It is perhaps the crowning irony that so many of those who argue that the use of force is inherently wrong or misguided would also have us forsake the study of warfighting. Without a thorough knowledge of history - and of the history of war - we are at the mercy of any expert with an agenda. We cannot judge for ourselves, because we lack the knowledge, whether they are telling us the truth.

We mistake the counterfeit for the genuine, a John Kerry (who spent all of four months in Vietnam) for a Mack Owens. And so we are misled, to our detriment:

...opponents of the war have drawn the Vietnam analogy like a gun, seeking from the very beginning to argue that Iraq and Vietnam were analogous. Ted Kennedy famously called Iraq “George Bush’s Vietnam.”

I have argued on several occasions that the parallels between the two conflicts at the operational and strategic levels of war were nonsensical. But that has never stopped the opponents of the current war from invoking the conventional Vietnam War narrative, which goes something like this: The U.S. was predestined to lose the Vietnam War because the Vietnamese Communists were too determined, the South Vietnamese too corrupt, and Americans were incapable of fighting the kind of war that would have been necessary to prevail.

...The fact is that the outcome of a war is not predetermined. Who wins and who loses are determined in the final instance by the respective actions of the combatants. Victory or defeat depends on decisions actually made and strategies actually implemented. We came close to victory in Vietnam, but then threw it away.

The 1972 Easter Offensive provided the proof that Vietnam could survive, albeit with U.S. air and naval support, at least in the short term. The Easter Offensive was the biggest North Vietnamese offensive push of the war, greater in magnitude than either the 1968 Tet offensive or the final assault of 1975. Despite inevitable failures on the part of some units, all in all, the South Vietnamese fought well. Then, having blunted the Communist thrust, they recaptured territory that had been lost to Hanoi. Finally, so effective was the eleven-day "Christmas bombing" campaign (LINEBACKER II) later that year that the British counterinsurgency expert, Sir Robert Thompson exclaimed, "you had won the war. It was over."

Three years later, despite the heroic performance of some ARVN units, South Vietnam collapsed against a much weaker, cobbled-together PAVN offensive. What happened to cause this reversal?

First, the Nixon administration, in its rush to extricate the country from Vietnam, forced South Vietnam to accept a ceasefire that permitted North Vietnamese forces to remain in South Vietnam. Then in an act that still shames the United States to this day, Congress cut off military and economic assistance to South Vietnam. Finally, President Nixon resigned over Watergate and his successor, constrained by congressional action, defaulted on promises to respond with force to North Vietnamese violations of the peace terms.

History provides invaluable context that helps refute agenda-laden spin. Contrary to the conventional wisdom rammed down our throats by an anti-war press, the historical record shows that insurgents rarely win wars: (h/t Karl's must-read post on media miscoverage of the war)

Myths about invincible guerrillas and insurgents are a direct result of America’s collective misunderstanding of its defeat in South Vietnam. This loss is generally credited to the brilliance and military virtues of the pajama-clad Vietcong. The Vietnamese may have been tough and persistent, but they were not brilliant. Rather, they were lucky—they faced an opponent with leaders unwilling to learn from their failures: the United States. When the Vietcong went toe-to-toe with U.S. forces in the 1968 Tet Offensive, they were decimated. When South Vietnam finally fell in 1975, it did so not to the Vietcong, but to regular units of the invading North Vietnamese Army. The Vietcong insurgency contributed greatly to the erosion of the American public’s will to fight, but so did the way that President Lyndon Johnson and the American military waged the war. It was North Vietnam’s will and American failure, not skillful use of an insurgency, that were the keys to Hanoi’s victory.

Though, as Karl notes, defeating a determined insurgency generally takes 8-10 years, a recent DoD study showed that insurgencies similar to the one in Iraq lose about 60% of the time.

What does this all mean?

It means that despite the chorus of derision which greeted George Bush's speech last Tuesday (and which has followed every pronouncement that all America needed to do to win this war was "stay the course") it appears the President is not as stupid as his critics make him out to be. His understanding of military history is not flawed. On the contrary, it matches precisely the recollection of those, like Mack Owens and Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird, who were actually there - on the ground - making history rather than protesting the war or telling America that if we withdrew from Vietnam there would not be any bloodbath. Melvin Laird recalls:

The truth about Vietnam that revisionist historians conveniently forget is that the United States had not lost when we withdrew in 1973. In fact, we grabbed defeat from the jaws of victory two years later when Congress cut off the funding for South Vietnam that had allowed it to continue to fight on its own. Over the four years of Nixon's first term, I had cautiously engineered the withdrawal of the majority of our forces while building up South Vietnam's ability to defend itself. My colleague and friend Henry Kissinger, meanwhile, had negotiated a viable agreement between North and South Vietnam, which was signed in January 1973. It allowed for the United States to withdraw completely its few remaining troops and for the United States and the Soviet Union to continue funding their respective allies in the war at a specified level. Each superpower was permitted to pay for replacement arms and equipment. Documents released from North Vietnamese historical files in recent years have proved that the Soviets violated the treaty from the moment the ink was dry, continuing to send more than $1 billion a year to Hanoi. The United States barely stuck to the allowed amount of military aid for two years, and that was a mere fraction of the Soviet contribution.

Yet during those two years, South Vietnam held its own courageously and respectably against a better-bankrolled enemy. Peace talks continued between the North and the South until the day in 1975 when Congress cut off U.S. funding. The Communists walked out of the talks and never returned. Without U.S. funding, South Vietnam was quickly overrun. We saved a mere $297 million a year and in the process doomed South Vietnam, which had been ably fighting the war without our troops since 1973.

I believed then and still believe today that given enough outside resources, South Vietnam was capable of defending itself, just as I believe Iraq can do the same now. From the Tet offensive in 1968 up to the fall of Saigon in 1975, South Vietnam never lost a major battle. The Tet offensive itself was a victory for South Vietnam and devastated the North Vietnamese army, which lost 289,000 men in 1968 alone. Yet the overriding media portrayal of the Tet offensive and the war thereafter was that of defeat for the United States and the Saigon government. Just so, the overriding media portrayal of the Iraq war is one of failure and futility.

Vietnam gave the United States the reputation for not supporting its allies. The shame of Vietnam is not that we were there in the first place, but that we betrayed our ally in the end. It was Congress that turned its back on the promises of the Paris accord. The president, the secretary of state, and the secretary of defense must share the blame. In the end, they did not stand up for the commitments our nation had made to South Vietnam. Any president or cabinet officer who is turned down by Congress when he asks for funding for a matter of national security or defense simply has not tried hard enough. There is no excuse for that failure.

Santayana had it half right. Those who fail to learn the lessons of history - or who lie about them - doom others to repeat them. And as Victor Hanson so eloquently reminds us, without knowledge of our military history and traditions, how will future generations of Americans tell the counterfeit coin from the genuine? How will they know when they are being lied to, or given only half the story? How will they know, as with the American media's misleading characterization of the Tet offensive as a defeat for our side, history is repeating itself?

Try explaining to a college student that Tet was an American military victory. You’ll provoke not a counterargument—let alone an assent—but a blank stare: Who or what was Tet? Doing interviews about the recent hit movie 300, I encountered similar bewilderment from listeners and hosts. Not only did most of them not know who the 300 were or what Thermopylae was; they seemed clueless about the Persian Wars altogether.

It’s no surprise that civilian Americans tend to lack a basic understanding of military matters. Even when I was a graduate student, 30-some years ago, military history—understood broadly as the investigation of why one side wins and another loses a war, and encompassing reflections on magisterial or foolish generalship, technological stagnation or breakthrough, and the roles of discipline, bravery, national will, and culture in determining a conflict’s outcome and its consequences—had already become unfashionable on campus. Today, universities are even less receptive to the subject.

This state of affairs is profoundly troubling, for democratic citizenship requires knowledge of war—and now, in the age of weapons of mass annihilation, more than ever.

...Military history reminds us of important anomalies and paradoxes. When Sparta invaded Attica in the first spring of the Peloponnesian war, Thucydides recounts, it expected the Athenians to surrender after a few short seasons of ravaging. They didn’t—but a plague that broke out unexpectedly did more damage than thousands of Spartan ravagers did. Twenty-seven years later, a maritime Athens lost the war at sea to Sparta, an insular land power that started the conflict with scarcely a navy. The 2003 removal of Saddam refuted doom-and-gloom critics who predicted thousands of deaths and millions of refugees, just as the subsequent messy four-year reconstruction hasn’t evolved as anticipated into a quiet, stable democracy—to say the least.

The size of armies doesn’t guarantee battlefield success: the victors at Salamis, Issos, Mexico City, and Lepanto were all outnumbered. War’s most savage moments—the Allied summer offensive of 1918, the Russian siege of Berlin in the spring of 1945, the Battle of the Bulge, Hiroshima—often unfold right before hostilities cease. And democratic leaders during war—think of Winston Churchill, Harry Truman, and Richard Nixon—often leave office either disgraced or unpopular.

It would be reassuring to think that the righteousness of a cause, or the bravery of an army, or the nobility of a sacrifice ensures public support for war. But military history shows that far more often the perception of winning is what matters. Citizens turn abruptly on any leaders deemed culpable for losing. “Public sentiment is everything,” wrote Abraham Lincoln. “With public sentiment nothing can fail. Without it nothing can succeed. He who molds opinion is greater than he who enacts laws.” Lincoln knew that lesson well. Gettysburg and Vicksburg were brilliant Union victories that by summer 1863 had restored Lincoln’s previously shaky credibility. But a year later, after the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Petersburg, and Cold Harbor battles—Cold Harbor claimed 7,000 Union lives in 20 minutes—the public reviled him. Neither Lincoln nor his policies had changed, but the Confederate ability to kill large numbers of Union soldiers had.

Ultimately, public opinion follows the ups and downs—including the perception of the ups and downs—of the battlefield, since victory excites the most ardent pacifist and defeat silences the most zealous zealot. After the defeat of France, the losses to Bomber Command, the U-boat rampage, and the fall of Greece, Singapore, and Dunkirk, Churchill took the blame for a war as seemingly lost as, a little later, it seemed won by the brilliant prime minister after victories in North Africa, Sicily, and Normandy. When the successful military action against Saddam Hussein ended in April 2003, over 70 percent of the American people backed it, with politicians and pundits alike elbowing each other aside to take credit for their prescient support. Four years of insurgency later, Americans oppose a now-orphaned war by the same margin. General George S. Patton may have been uncouth, but he wasn’t wrong when he bellowed, “Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser.” The American public turned on the Iraq War not because of Cindy Sheehan or Michael Moore but because it felt that the battlefield news had turned uniformly bad and that the price in American lives and treasure for ensuring Iraqi reform was too dear.

Finally, military history has the moral purpose of educating us about past sacrifices that have secured our present freedom and security. If we know nothing of Shiloh, Belleau Wood, Tarawa, and Chosun, the crosses in our military cemeteries are just pleasant white stones on lush green lawns. They no longer serve as reminders that thousands endured pain and hardship for our right to listen to what we wish on our iPods and to shop at Wal-Mart in safety—or that they expected future generations, links in this great chain of obligation, to do the same for those not yet born. The United States was born through war, reunited by war, and saved from destruction by war. No future generation, however comfortable and affluent, should escape that terrible knowledge.

He is right. No future generation should. But this generation is, and has. And future generations are learning even less than we did. And the price, the terrible price, is becoming evident in the charlatans who masquerade as lovers of peace, but who are really nothing more than appeasers and apologists for tyranny. They will sell our children into slavery, and we will be in no position to lift a finger:

For the Peace Racket, to kill innocents in cold blood is to buy the right to dialogue, negotiation, concessions—and power. So students learn to identify “insurgent” or “militant” groups with the populations they purport to represent. A few years ago, a peace organization called Transcend equated the demands of the Basque terrorist group ETA with “the desires of the Basque people”—as if a “people” were a monolithic group for whom a band of murderous thugs could presume to speak. The complaints that Transcend made about the Spanish government’s “blockade positions”—its refusal to cave to terrorist demands—and the Spanish media’s lack of “objectivity”—their refusal to take a middle position between Spanish society and ETA terrorists—are standard Peace Racket fare. Similarly, during Saddam’s dictatorship, “peace scholars” wrote as if Iraq were equivalent to Saddam and the Baath party, entirely removing from the picture the Shiites and Kurds whom Saddam’s regime subjugated, tortured, and slaughtered.

The recipes for peace that flow from such thinking seem designed not only to buttress oppression but to create more of it. For if democracies consistently followed the Peace Racket’s recommendations, what they’d eventually reap would be the kind of peace found today in Havana or Pyongyang.

...Warblogger Frank Martin described his visit to the military cemetery at Arnhem, in the Netherlands, where a teenage guide said that the Allied soldiers “were fighting for bridges; how silly that they would all fight for something like that.” Martin was outraged: “I tried to explain that they weren’t fighting for bridges, but for his and his families’ freedom.” That teenager articulated precisely the kind of thinking that peace professors seek to instill in their students—that freedom is at best an overvalued asset that can hinder peacemaking, and at worst a lie, and that those who harp on it are either American propagandists or dupes who’ve fallen for the propaganda. In March, Yusra Moshtat, an associate of the Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research, and Jan Oberg, director of the foundation, wrote that “words like democracy and freedom are deceptive, cover-ups or Unspeak.” And in a 1997 speech at a Texas peace foundation, Oscar Arias, ex-president of Costa Rica and founder of his own peace foundation, described the American preoccupation with freedom versus tyranny as “obsolete,” “oversimplified,” and above all “dangerous,” because it could lead to war. In other words, if you want to ensure peace, worry less about freedom. Appease tyranny, accept it, embrace it—and there’ll be no more war.

Time and technology may change, but human nature is one thing we can be reasonably sure will remain disappointingly constant. In fact, advances in technology makes the defects in human nature even harder to deal with as they lessen the protective effects of borders, distances between unfriendly nations, and even the most stringent of security measures. Add to this the fluid nature of travel and immigration, which bring people of increasingly disparate cultures and beliefs into close contact, and you increase - not decrease - the potential for violent conflict.

Why, then, do some people persist in the naive belief that we can talk our way out of conflicts with people who resolve their political differences by strapping bombs to suicidal maniacs? Is it really logical to think we can avoid war by burying our heads in the sand and pretending violent people don't exist? Do we avoid crime by dispensing with police and ignoring (or engaging in dialog with) criminals?

Of course we don't.

No one wants war, least of all the men and women who volunteer to fight it. In fact, if you don't support this war, you may be surprised to know that some of us who do hate war just as much as you do. But we don't want our children to have to fight. And having read history, knowing the lessons of Vietnam - not the lessons of a man who only spent 4 months of a 12 month tour there and to this day tells people no massive bloodbath occurred after we left, but the lessons of men who stayed long enough to see what was really going on - we are saddened, and grateful, and angry as hell. And we don't ever want to make that mistake again.

No, not the one you think. The mistake of asking too many men to die for a cause that America ends up turning her back on. Because that is just too much to ask of our armed forces. When we ask them to fight and die, they need to believe that it will accomplish something. They need to believe their sacrifice was for a reason.

They don't need to be told, after they've lost an arm or a leg,

"Nevermind. We weren't serious, after all. We can't afford this." When America goes to war, we had damned well better mean it.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:26 AM | Comments (31) | TrackBack

May 29, 2007

Silent As The Grave

MONTJOY: Once more I come to know of thee, King Harry,
If for thy ransom thou wilt now compound,
Before thy most assured overthrow:

KING HENRY V: I pray thee, bear my former answer back:
Bid them achieve me and then sell my bones.
Good God! why should they mock poor fellows thus?

- Henry V

trees1.jpg They stand crisply at attention in neat rows, spines ramrod straight, dress whites gleaming in the early morning fog.

They are the perfect soldiers: loyal, steadfast, courageous under fire. But of all the soldierly virtues, there is one which transcends all others.

They are silent.

Like the children they are so often presumed to be, they come when called, go where they are told to go, serve faithfully if not always without question. And when, finally, the last bullet has been fired those who emerge from that bloody crucible return to a world that does not always welcome them with open arms.

How we long for this day. But the sons, husbands, fathers who arrive on our doorsteps seem familiar and yet indefinably altered. In their eyes lurk the barren contours of an undiscovered country, a place with no maps or markers we are capable of understanding. It is as though, while they were gone, a frame in a movie projector simply froze for a few minutes while somewhere in the distance, all hell broke loose.

In another room someone is screaming. There are sounds of violence. A slap, shattering glass, and then a loud crash and the sound of inconsolable weeping. Then, suddenly, the movie starts up again as though nothing has occurred and we reach for our popcorn and shift restlessly in our seats, vaguely disturbed. How perfectly awful. Did any of that really happen? Better not to talk about it.

But for the people in that far off room, nothing will ever be the same again. And now there is only an ominous quiet. It is the silence of the grave; a blank slate that allows us to scribble anything we wish upon it:

It’s become common among Democrats to argue for withdrawing from Iraq in the name of the troops. In January, for instance, New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler introduced a bill titled the Protect the Troops and Bring Them Home Act. In February, Congresswoman Lynne Woolsey sent a letter to Bush arguing that it was “time to truly support our troops—by bringing them home.” Fifteen members of Congress signed on. Senators, too, have been willing to support this idea. Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland said in a February floor speech that “the best way to support our troops serving in Iraq is to say ‘NO’ to the president’s escalation of the war.”

Haunted by Vietnam, Democrats are determined to express support for the troops. This is admirable. The truth of the matter, however, is this: many troops in Iraq, perhaps even most of them, want to stay and fight. That doesn’t mean that we should stay in Iraq any longer. It does mean, however, that if Democrats want to bridge the divide between themselves and the military—an effort further complicated by their opposition to the war—they’re going to have to recognize that arguing in the name of the troops isn’t going to work.

Indeed, what can America possibly learn from the troops when there are so many disinterested public servants willing to speak out on their behalf? The enforced silence of our men and women in uniform is not only politically expedient but downright necessary. Without it, so many things would be impossible.

Only if the troops remain silent will the public be safe from the shameless manoevering of partisan political hacks determined to hide the truth:

"As officers you will have the responsibility of communicating to those below you that the American military must be nonpolitical and recognize the obligation we owe the Congress to be honest and true in our reporting to them, especially when it involves admitting mistakes or problems," said Gates, who has worked for seven presidents.

Only by refusing to listen to the military can we avoid being duped by party insiders who shamelessly abuse their positions for political gain:

Petraeus doesn't want to play politics. He tells friends that he doesn't vote in presidential elections, to maintain his political independence. In that, he emulates Gen. George Marshall, the architect of the Allied victory in World War II.

...The smartest thing Petraeus has done is to draw Congress into his confidence, as co-manager of the new strategy. In his testimony yesterday, he promised regular progress reports and pledged to tell Congress if he decides that the new strategy can't succeed. The flip side is that Petraeus will tell Congress whether he needs more troops, which may prove to be the case. Petraeus helped draft the new counterinsurgency field manual, which warns that successful operations "often require a high ratio of security forces to the protected population." It's hard to believe that 21,500 more troops will be enough to protect an Iraqi population in the midst of a civil war.

Thankfully, after the Swift Boating of John Kerry and Jack Murtha, most Americans know who is really on the side of the troops. Astonishingly, there are still a few unbiased experts willing to protect the public from unreliable firsthand reports from the front lines. In the end, the only trustworthy reports on the Surge will come, not from Iraq, but from Capitol Hill.

Many lawmakers will formulate their position on the basis of a coming report from Gen. David Petraeus, commander of the multinational force, to the president. Unfortunately, based on behavior in his last command in Iraq and the manner in which he received his current position, Petraeus is not a reliable source for an unbiased assessment.

On this weekend of remembrance, it is most fitting to recall who really protects America's beloved freedoms: Congress and the media.

Today, I want to encourage you always to remember the importance of two pillars of our freedom under the Constitution - the Congress and the press. Both surely try our patience from time to time, but they are the surest guarantees of the liberty of the American people.

With these two pillars of freedom bravely speaking out on behalf of our armed forces, there's no need for your inconvenient and superfluous opinions.

You needn't, for instance, give permission to be filmed while critically injured or dying. Never fear that your wife, eight year old son, or aged grandmother might stumble across that graphic video of you gasping out your last breaths as your buddies look on in horror. Who could fail to see that the closeup of your charred, bloodsoaked torso was meant as respectful "homage" to your sacrifice, a reverent sacrifice laid on the altar of America's all-consuming need to know?

Don't sweat it if, doped up on morphine, or writhing in agony from a leg blown off by an IED you scream, swear, whimper, say something embarrassing, or are caught sucking your thumb while half conscious. The New York Times has your back. They've decided that Not To See the Fallen Does You No Favor. Besides, if Britney Spears can share her most intimate moments with us surely human dignity is highly overrated. No less a person than Secretary Gates has reminded us: the press is the surest guarantor of our freedoms, and reasonable people do not object to having their freedom guaranteed, do they?

That would be political.

Given a blank freedom check by the Constitution, the Fourth Branch of Government impartially ensures an informed electorate. They enthusiastically support our foreign policy initiatives by repeatedly hyping sensationalistic torture photos from Abu Ghuraib while burying the misdeeds of our enemies. This important work is bolstered by giving millions of dollars in free publicity to the enemy despite evidence that more news coverage leads to increased violence and an upswing in the recruitment of terrorists. So committed are the media to maintaining a completely unbiased editorial 'voice' that they not only refuse to cover the accomplishments of our troops but actively subvert attempts by our government to spread the good news themselves.

These brave freedom fighters never stop protecting us. Whether it's their sacred right to defy grand jury investigations (first guaranteed by the landmark SC decision in Branzburg v. Hayes), to destroy evidence in terrorism investigations, to shield cop killers from justice citing nonexistent federal shield laws, or to publish classified national security memos, we can all breathe a bit easier knowing that professional journalists are the sturdy pillar upholding the rule of law.

So don't you dare question which side the press is on, or observe that unlike Congress or the President no one elected them and there seem to be no checks to balance their power; nor do the media brook any attempt to hold them accountable for the damage they do. The press, not the military, are the surest guarantors of our freedoms.

Likewise, when Senator Reid declares to all the world the war is lost before even a third of the Surge troops are in place, though he is neither your Commander in Chief nor the Secretary of State, nor is he even in Iraq (making it difficult at best for him to assess our progress) it is inappropriate for you to have an opinion on the matter. Certainly there are some who view Congress as public servants. There are even some who hold to the antiquated notion that Congress is merely one of three co-equal branches of government with a limited role defined by the Constitution; one which, oddly enough, does not include unilaterally surrendering to the enemy while our troops are in harm's way (especially without consulting the other 500-odd members of that august body).

Be that as it may, the very survival of our Republic demands you keep silent and allow various members of Congress to imply they are guaranteeing your freedom by shielding you from the enemy you volunteered to fight.

Remember, you fight so that others may dream of freedoms you must never be permitted.

So even if asked, do not presume to tell us what is going on in Iraq and Afghanistan, whether you think it is going well or going poorly. Let those far more capable than yourselves speak on your behalf.

Just shut up and fight. After all, the law says you must not be political.

Just shut up and die, so we can have peace in our time.

graves.jpg

CWCID: photos, MaryAnn

Posted by Cassandra at 06:45 AM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

May 24, 2007

Light, From Darkness

There is a positive river of outrage flowing through the streets and cities of this nation right now; a veritable flood tide of righteous indignation on behalf of America's armed forces. Because unlike Vietnam era war protesters, those who oppose the 21st Century Quagmire support their troops:

Did you know that George W. Bush was a war hero? I know that this development comes as a shock and surprise to many progressives who are familiar with Bush's military career, but he received a Vietnam-era Purple Heart award a few weeks ago in the Oval Office. Seriously.

28%-er Bill Thomas of Copperas Cove, Texas, decided recently to give George Bush one of the three purple hearts that he had been awarded in Vietnam. Bush was so blown over by this gesture that he invited Thomas and his wife, Georgia, to the Oval Office for the presentation...

The medal was presented to Bush, and Thomas said:

...he and his wife came up with the unprecedented idea to present the president with the Purple Heart over breakfast one morning a few months ago as they discussed the verbal attacks, both foreign and domestic, the commander in chielf has withstood during his time in office.

"We feel like emotional wounds and scars are as hard to carry as physical wounds."

Soak that all in for a moment.

If you factor in Laura Bush's lament last week that "...no one suffers more than the president and I do..." because of the conflict in Iraq ........ ..... ......... oh, fark it. I can't even snark this up anymore. Sometimes, true life irony is its own sarcasm. I guess Laura forgot that George isn't losing any sleep over it.

One of the more innovative ways in which the progressyve crowd show their unwavering respect for the troops (but not their mission) is by showering them with clever little pet names like "28 percenters":

the 28%ers, the “loyal bushies”, are the type of people who hurt animals as children, and then grow up as bullies. Imperialism is all they know.

Bush supporter:
Drug, Oil, Defence,[sic] international corportations,[sic] chamber of commerence, loony religious right, union haters, and watchers of the fox follies. Just a start but these are the “die hard” supporters because most of these people have money invested in Bush and have had a pretty good return on their investment up to date.

In other words, the famed lefty virtues of inclusivity, the promotion of diversity, openness to intellectual inquiry and tolerance of other lifestyles and belief systems aside, anyone who disagrees with progressive ideas is obviously either a sociopath or greedy. No bias, closemindedness or kneejerk intolerance here. And naturally, since the Left supports freedom in all its various guises, they would never presume to ridicule the decision of veteran who had risked his life defending the very freedoms they hold so dearly ....not. Especially in the face of evidence that the President does, in fact, care quite deeply about the wounds caused by war.

Even old wounds:

I've never written about Josh Cooley, but not a day has passed since July 7, 2005 that I haven't thought about him.

That was the day I received an email from Sandy Gay, whose husband Norman worked with Josh at the Pasco, FL Sheriff's Office. Josh had been hurt in Iraq two days before. It was bad, and his wife and mother were flying to Germany on orders.

Josh had always thought about joining the military. After all, the Cooley men have served since the Battle of Bull Run. Josh's grandfather was a Marine, as was his father Ed. And his two older brothers served with the Corps in the first Gulf War.

But Ed and his mother Christine didn't want Josh to follow in their footsteps. He went into law enforcement instead, where he became a sniper with the Paco Sheriff's Office SWAT team.

Until 9/11.

Ed tried to talk Josh out of it, although the circumstances must have been familiar to him. Ed had enlisted as soon as he could after his 18-year-old cousin, Edward Monahan Jr., was killed in South Vietnam in 1965.

Wounded near Da Nang in May of 1968, Ed's real injuries were inflicted later.

When Christine had to pay her own way to visit him in Hawaii where he had been medevac'd. When he got back home and was called a baby killer. When he was pelted with eggs. When the military sent his Purple Heart and other decorations via Parcel Post several years after he had left the service.

But after Josh's injury, Ed's wounds started to heal along with his son's.

When he found out the CINC was going to award Josh the Purple Heart, there was a lot Ed wanted to say. And he wanted to make sure he got it right. So he composed a letter:

“When I was notified you were coming today to present my son with the Purple Heart I thought, ‘This is different, but also the way it should be,’ I myself served in Vietnam... upon return I was not treated well by the military or our country.”

“As I stand here today watching you honor my son as well as the other soldiers of our country, I have nothing but pride, honor, and yes dignity, too.

“Not only have you honored my son but you have also healed some old wounds as well.”


And this too, was as it should be:

As Bush read, his eyes got wet. He pulled out his handkerchief and turned away from the cameras. [He then turned back] to Ed and called him a hero.

“I’m sorry it was never said to you before,” the president said, “but thank you for serving our country.”

Then he hugged the old veteran so tightly that Ed thought Secret Service agents standing nearby might intervene. He felt a 36-year burden lift as he hesitantly returned the embrace.

If the reality based community weren't afraid to venture out of their bubble, they might try talking to Rachel Ascione about whether the President grieves for our fallen warriors, whether he just brushes their grief aside lightly:

Ascione wasn't sure she could restrain herself with the president. She was feeling "raw." "I wanted him to look me in the eye and tell me why my brother was never coming back, and I wanted him to know it was his fault that my heart was broken," she recalls. The president was coming to Florida, a key swing state, in the middle of his re-election campaign. Ascione was worried that her family would be "exploited" by a "phony effort to make good with people in order to get votes."

Ascione and her family were gathered with 18 other families in a large room on the air base. The president entered with some Secret Service agents, a military entourage and a White House photographer. "I'm here for you, and I will take as much time as you need," Bush said. He began moving from family to family. Ascione watched as mothers confronted him: "How could you let this happen? Why is my son gone?" one asked. Ascione couldn't hear his answer, but soon "she began to sob, and he began crying, too. And then he just hugged her tight, and they cried together for what seemed like forever."

Ascione's family was one of the last Bush approached. Ascione still planned to confront him, but Bush disarmed her in an almost uncanny way. Ascione is just over five feet; her late brother was 6 feet 7. "My whole life, he used to put his hand on the top of my head and just hold it there, and it drove me crazy," she says. When Bush saw that she was crying, he leaned over and put his hand on the top of her head and drew her to him. "It was just like my brother used to do," she says, beginning to cry at the memory.

Before Bush left the meeting, he paused in the middle of the room and said to the families, "I will never feel the same level of pain and loss you do. I didn't lose anyone close to me, a member of my family or someone that I love. But I want you to know that I didn't go into this lightly. This was a decision that I struggle with every day."

As he spoke, Ascione could see the grief rising through the president's body. His shoulder slumped and his face turned ashen. He began to cry and his voice choked. He paused, tried to regain his composure and looked around the room. "I am sorry, I'm so sorry," he said.

But this is more 'reality' than the reality based community is ready for. It conflicts with how they wish to see the world - a stark, black and white version of The Truthiness in which it becomes more comforting to believe that our leaders are callous and cold (no matter how many military families say that's untrue), that they lie (no matter that the official record says otherwise), that they are using our military (no matter that our armed forces are all volunteer and that they keep volunteering).

The truth is that the world is sometimes an ugly and frightening place full of murder and hatred and misery.

But there are other truths.

There is the truth discovered by Ed Cooley, father to wounded Iraq war vet Josh Cooley, on his long journey out of darkness and back into the light:

"There's a lot of hope out here."

Hope, often, is all we have. But it is enough, and more than enough. Hope propels us onward and upward; when we are mired in darkness it grabs us by the shirt collar and forces us to focus, not on those things we cannot control, but on the things we can.

And that is how miracles happen, for miracles are still possible even in an imperfect world. But if we never reach for things beyond our grasp, if we see only what is wrong with the world and never what is right, we never dare to dream. And oddest of all, if we give up hope, we lose sight of one of the strangest lessons life has to offer: that out of great tragedy and suffering can also come good, and perhaps, a measure of peace:

Ed couldn’t help but compare what was happening with his earlier experience. Some things were the same: a car parked in front of the Fisher House touted “Re-defeat Bush” and “Mission Nothing Accomplished” stickers.


But this time, the Marine Corps were treating the Cooleys like royalty. The military covered their airfare, their hospital housing, some food costs and a rental car. As doctors treated Josh’s burns and fussed over whether to remove the credit-card sized shrapnel from his head, Ed was able to attend a two-day conference on post-traumatic stress disorder.

His own experience told him the physical challenges ahead for Josh would be matched by internal anguish. But he took comfort from the fact Josh would not have to wait years for the right therapies.

“Because I’ll drag his a-- there,” Ed said, sipping coffee in between smokes. “I’ll be able to help him.”

To begin the process, Ed started snapping pictures of his son at each stage of his recovery. The images were tough. They showed Josh with puffy eyes, a swollen tongue, a face that didn’t look like his own.

But down the road, Ed knew that the painstaking healing process would get Josh down. And when that happened, Ed would be there to show his son how far they had come.
***

In July, Ed ducked outside a hospital lodge for a smoke.

He thought he was alone, which was fine with him, but then he saw someone crouched in a corner. It was a small woman talking on her cell phone.

She spoke in an undecipherable sing-song and was Asian in appearance. Until very recently, Ed had known such people by a single word.

“Gook.”

That’s what they called the Vietnamese during the war. It was derogatory, offensive. But it was the way Ed felt.

Until now.

When the woman finished her phone call, Ed struck up a conversation.

He learned she was originally from Laos and now Ohio. Alone, she had come to Bethesda to be with her son, an Army man. He, too, had suffered a head wound in Iraq.

These were the people that we fought for, Ed thought. And now this woman’s son had replicated the sacrifice.

Ed and the woman met again almost every night for a week.

“She was just like a little angel,” Ed said later, describing their meetings. “It was just the nicest thing for me.”
***

During the next few months, hope came in larger doses. Josh opened his eyes, breathed on his own, ate ice chips and then pork tenderloin from his mother’s kitchen. He couldn’t yet walk or talk.


The Cooleys returned to Florida in late September when doctors sent Josh to the James A. Haley VA Medical Center in Tampa to continue his rehabilitation.

Coming home for Ed meant leaving the cocoon of Bethesda’s hospital campus and rejoining the world of normal people.

This time, he considered embracing them. He thought about going to church with Gordy Larkin, whose life Josh had saved and who had become a stronghold for Ed. He said hello to strangers instead of looking the other way.

But he also had to face past mistakes. At a fall court hearing in New Port Richey, Ed learned he would lose his driver’s license and serve 30 days of weekend jail time for a DUI he got a few months before Josh was hurt. His decision to drink and drive, he said, was prompted by a disturbing phone call from Josh. The rules of engagement, Josh had complained prophetically, were too strict. They couldn’t just shoot up an abandoned car by the side of the road that might contain a bomb.

“I got stupid,” Ed explained.

Money worried Ed, too. He was on disability from his war injuries and made a little extra on the side shoeing horses. Even with the Marine Corps covering Josh’s medical bills, he feared for his son’s financial future.

The normal people Ed had so long distrusted came through. In Pasco and Hernando counties, they held car washes, motorcycle rides, silent auctions and benefit dinners for Josh, raising tens of thousands of dollars.

***

Difficult days lie ahead.Later this spring, Josh will return to Bethesda to have a plate fitted to the gap in his skull. Then he will continue his rehabilitation in Tampa, where therapists are guiding his first steps and his family delights in watching his shoulders shake when they make him laugh.


They don’t know how much of his old life he will regain.

Ed takes things day by day. He dreams of Josh tagging along on horseshoeing jobs. He hurts watching his son suffer, but it feels good to see the country doing right by him.


Ed doesn’t feel so angry anymore.

“I’m getting there,” he said. “And Josh is going to get there.”

I need a sign
To let me know you're here
Cause my TV set just keeps it all from being clear
I want a reason
For the way things have to be
I need a hand to help build up
Some kind of hope inside of me

I won't give up if you don't give up

Posted by Cassandra at 07:48 AM | Comments (27) | TrackBack

May 18, 2007

Laying The Foundations For Peace

I was excited to get the email, a few days ago. This is the kind of thing we have been asking for: good news we can share, news about what we are doing right in Iraq and Afghanistan. Something positive to counter the constant rain of negativity in the mass media. And it didn't disappoint. The scene was Operation Matador, the subject, Silver Star recipient Corporal Mark Camp:

...then-Lance Cpl. Camp and his company were sent to New Ubaydi on a house-clearing mission. As Camp’s squad entered one of the houses, insurgents hiding in a closet and in an underground crawlspace opened fire, shooting four Marines. Camp, outside, heard the gunfight and immediately ran inside to help. Three separate times he entered and exited the building to recover his squad members and clear the house of insurgents.

Camp.jpg On May 11, Camp was again tested. This time, his company was heading to another small town to clear other insurgent strongholds. Camp was standing at the top hatch of his amphibious assault vehicle when he noticed an eerie silence. Camp was instantly on alert – but that could not stop the roadside bomb that detonated at that moment, hitting the vehicle and throwing the man standing next to Camp into a nearby field.

Shrapnel dug into Camp’s right thigh, and the explosion lit his hands and face on fire. He was thrown back into the burning vehicle, and he began beating out the fires all over his body and head.

Then, Camp heard the call of one of his teammates still trapped inside. As he crawled back into the wreckage, heat was cooking off ammunition all around him, ammunition that ricocheted inside even as insurgents continued to fire from outside. And then there was another explosion. Camp fell back out of the vehicle, on fire once more. Again, he beat his body until the flames subsided.

His comrade was still in the vehicle. So Camp went back inside and tried to grip the Marine’s pack, his helmet – anything – but by then Camp’s skin was melting from his hands. Camp later told the Columbus Dispatch, “I [was] screaming for someone to help me . . . someone with fresh hands."

Corporal Camp was not the only one to receive a medal recently. Major Derek Bonaldo received the Bronze Star for his work training Iraqi forces for the difficult work of securing Iraq's future:

For most of his Army career, Derek Bonaldo worked behind a desk as a self-described paper pusher. But on May 1, 2006, he was in the middle of his first firefight near Baghdad, Iraq.

Bonaldo, a major in the 91st Support Division, based in Dublin, was training several Iraqi National Police officers at a checkpoint on the road between the International Zone and the Baghdad Airport when insurgent snipers on a rooftop opened fire.

Bonaldo.jpg We happened to be going by and providing support, and we got caught in the fray, the 36-year-old said. We brought in helicopter support, cornered them and got them with help from other units.

It was my first combat tour and my first combat action.

It was a personal choice to go to Iraq, he said, and he was not required to do so. Hes not a Rambo, he said, but he felt that he needed to step up and relieve some troops that had have been on several tours already.

Although he had never trained troops before, he was assigned to an 11-member transition team as a logistics adviser to the Iraqi National Police and a liaison between the national police and the U.S. military.

His goal was to make the national police first responders self-sustainable. He instructed them in battlefield operating systems during training and prepared them for combat. He also kept his superiors informed on the Iraqi officers readiness.

The aim is to wean the Iraqi government off U.S. support and show them they can do it themselves, he said.

The main challenge was showing them there is an infrastructure, he said. Its in its infancy but its there on the Iraqi side.

By infrastructure, Bonaldo means items such as fuel, ammunition, uniforms and food.

His team was one of hundreds in Iraq, at least as of December, when there were 5,000 military transition personnel in the country, he said.

Recently, my husband returned to Baghdad from a tour of the outlying provinces of Iraq. He was pleasantly surprised at much of what he saw. An embedded reporter from the LA Times describes their stop in Haditha. It is the desert but it was, my husband said, the most beautiful place he saw in his travels. A place he could imagine living one day:

On a recent day, U.S. forces walked the downtown streets, talking to shopkeepers, inquiring whether Marines are treating residents with respect.

"Yes, yes," said Mohammed Alnear, whose shop, Cleopatra Ceramics, sells pottery materials. At a bicycle shop, the proprietor said he remembered "the terrible days" when insurgents with AK-47s roamed the streets and residents "were like scared animals, hiding." With encouragement from tribal sheiks, young men are enlisting in the local police force. Still, the force is still only half of its authorized strength.

Marine commanders say their success in reducing insurgent violence in Haditha and other areas of Al Anbar is an indication that a "surge" of troops, like that being tried by the Army in Baghdad, can succeed. But they note that a surge is a beginning, not an end.

Rasheed indicated that he remained concerned that the Americans, in their haste to hand over control to Iraqis, might leave behind a City Council whose members are, in effect, insurgents in disguise, waiting for the U.S. departure.

"We have to be careful," Rasheed said through an interpreter. This time, it was the Marines' turn to listen and nod.

One key to winning back the trust of Iraqis everywhere is the discipline of Marines and soldiers. Jim Mattis, in Iraq for a visit, counsels Marines that sometimes the most effective weapon is a friendly wave: (via W. Thomas Smith Jr.)

As he met recently with U.S. Marines at several locations across the sprawling Al Anbar province, Lt. Gen. James N. Mattis explained what he termed "wave tactics" to combat the Sunni Arab insurgency in its longtime stronghold.

Mattis, who led Marines against the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001, the regime of Saddam Hussein in 2003, and insurgents in Fallouja in April 2004, is urging his troops to show respect to ordinary Iraqis and exercise restraint in the use of deadly force to prevent civilian deaths and injury.

The Marine Corps has even asked a consultant about the best way to wave. Answer: Make eye contact, don't just wave mechanically like a beauty queen on a float.

For Mattis and the Marine Corps, the message is not new. As he led Marines into Iraq in 2003, the general sometimes called "Mad Dog" ordered his troops to be aggressive in fighting Iraqi forces but to show "soldierly compassion" toward civilians and prisoners.

No doubt this will be spun by some on the left as some startlingly new tactic, but it's old news for Mattis, who has always advocated a blend of 'chivalry and ferocity': taking the fight to the enemy with gusto but displaying gentleness and courtesy to innocent civilians. It 's just another twist on the Marine motto, "No better friend, no worse enemy".

In his talks to the Marines, Mattis was quick to emphasize that nothing in his call for restraint toward civilians should be seen as limiting an aggressive response toward insurgents.

"Kill the right people and protect everybody else, protect, protect, protect," he said in Haditha.

If there is a seeming contradiction between the two parts of his message, it's one that Mattis believes Marines have to master.

"If you can't ride two horses" at the same time, Mattis told Marines at Al Asad, "you have to get out of the circus in this part of the world."

In Baghdad, Mohammed tries to reason with those who have no grasp of history:

We must keep fighting those criminals and tyrants until they realize that the freedom-loving peoples of the region are not alone. Freedom and living in dignity are the aspirations of all mankind and that's what unites us; not death and suicide. When freedom-lovers in other countries reach out for us they are working for the future of everyone tyrants and murderers like Ahmedinejad, Nesrallah, Assad and Qaddafi must realize that we are not their possessions to pass on to their sons or henchmen. We belong to the human civilization and that was the day we gave what we gave to our land and other civilizations. They can't take out our humanity with their ugly crimes and they can't force us to back off. The world should ask them to leave our land before asking the soldiers of freedom to do so.

The cost of liberating Europe was enormous in blood and treasure and thereafter it took half a century of American military presence to protect Europe's nations from subsequent threats—now if that made sense during a cold war, and it did, then I don't understand why would anyone demand a pullout from Iraq (and maybe later the middle east) when the enemies are using every evil technique, from booby trapped dead animals to hijacked civilian aircrafts to kill us and destroy the human civilization.

Yes my friends, I will call for war just as powerfully the bad guys do and I must show them that I'm stronger than they are because those do not understand the language of civilization and reason. They understand only power, and with power they took over their countries and held their peoples hostages. Everything they accomplished was through absolute control over the assets of their nations through murder, torture, repression and intimidation.

The policy of the United States and her allies needs to adjust to make better use of the energy God - or nature or whatever you name it - blessed them with. We need to see a firm policy not afraid of making tough decisions replace the Byzantine debate of withdrawal. This became America's destiny the day it became a superpower. A destiny to show responsibility toward her own people and toward the world, and running away from this responsibility won't do any good.

Otherwise those who prefer to bury their heads in the dirt today will be cursed forever for abandoning their duty when they were most capable. I don't understand why someone who has all the tools for victory would refuse to fight the enemy that reminds us every day that it's evil with all the daily beheadings, torture and violations of all humane laws and values.

Some will keep on blaming America and her policies and they will consider anything America did and does wrong whether America stayed or left, fought or ran away, negotiated or boycotted. There will always be those who blame America for everything that goes wrong in this world but that doesn't mean America has to listen to them. America instead should listen to the spirit of America and what it stands for.

Reaping the fruit won't be today, it will be in the future after patience and great fighting.

He could not know this, but thousands of miles away, the leader of the free world was echoing those very sentiments.

I know. I was sitting not ten feet from him as he spoke these words to a group of military veterans:

I'm always amazed at the men and women who wear our uniform. Last week ...I was in California at Fort Irwin. And I had a chance to visit with some who had just come back from Iraq and some who were going over to Iraq, and it just amazes me that these young men and women know the stakes, they understand what we're doing, and they have volunteered to serve. We're really a remarkable country, and a remarkable military, and therefore we owe it to the families and to those who wear the uniform to make sure that this remarkable group of men and women are strongly supported ...

I tried to put this war into a historical context for them... I told them that they're laying the foundation of peace... the work we're doing today really will yield peace for a generation to come. And part of my discussion with them was I wanted them to think back to the work after World War II. After World War II, ... after we defeated Germany and Japan, this country went about the business of helping these countries develop into democracies. Isn't it interesting a country would ... have a bloody conflict with two nations, and then help democracy succeed? Why? Because our predecessors understood that forms of government help yield peace. In other words, it matters what happens in distant lands.

And so today, I can report to you that Japan is a strong ally of the United States. I've always found that very ironic that my dad, like many of your relatives, fought the Japanese as the sworn enemy and today one of the strongest allies in keeping the peace is the Prime Minister of Japan. Something happened between when old George H. W. Bush was a Navy fighter pilot, and his boy is the President of the United States. Well, what happened was the form of government changed. Liberty can transform enemies into allies. The hard work done after World War II helped lay the foundation of peace.

How about after the Korean War? Some of you are Korean vets, I know. I bet it would have been hard for you to predict, if you can think back to the early '50s... that an American President would say that we've got great relations with South Korea, great relations with Japan, that China is an emerging marketplace economy and that the region is peaceful. This is a part of the world where we lost thousands of young American soldiers, and yet there's peace.

I believe that U.S. presence there has given people the time necessary to develop systems of government that make that part of the world a peaceful part of the world, to lay the foundation for peace. And that's the work our soldiers are doing in the Middle East today. And it's necessary work. It is necessary because what happens in the Middle East, for example, can affect the security of the United States of America. And it's hard work, and we've lost some fantastic young men and women, and we pray for their families, and we honor their service and their sacrifice by completing the mission, by helping a generation of Americans grow up in a peaceful world.

I cannot tell you how honored I am to meet with the families of the fallen. They bear an unbelievable pain in their heart. And it's very important for me to make it clear to them that I believe the sacrifice is necessary to achieve the peace we all long for.

All of us, American and Iraqi, Republican and Democrat, long for peace. But it very much matters what kind of peace we settle for. There was peace under Saddam, but it was the peace of the graveyard; of the plastic shredder, the torture and the rape room, of brutal repression and the silencing of dissent. We did not care that thousands of Iraqis were being brutally slaughtered because their anguished screams never made it into our living rooms. There was, you see, no free press in Iraq.

And so, because as CNN president Eason Jordan admitted, the media kept far too much news to themselves, we slept the sleep of the complacent.

No more. Our eyes have been opened, and those who rail against the administration for not intervening in Darfur have no business telling us to break our promises to the children of Iraq, the ones who (my husband tells me on the phone) appear like magic when a military convoy drives into town asking for candy, toys, and above all, sunglasses!

Why do they hate us so? Why are the children of Iraq so afraid of us?

What we do in this life matters. Forms of government matter. This would be a far different world, had it not been for the Marshall Plan, for the reconstruction of a war torn Germany and Japan. But these things took time. And patience.

They took vision. We are laying the foundations for peace in a land we never brutally conquered, nor occupied because we wished to show mercy, and because our own political divisions forbade the deployment of an occupying force.

This is new territory, an undiscovered country. But America is the greatest nation on the face of the earth. If not us, who? If not now, when? If we do not reach out a hand across the rapidly growing cultural gap between stagnant Islam and the constantly changing West, what hope is there to avoid a larger confrontation?

We are laying the foundations for peace, foundations that could last for generations. And men like Harry Reid say we cannot afford to wait a few months.

The man is an ant on the monster truck tire of history.

Posted by Cassandra at 12:56 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

May 10, 2007

Strength And Honor

Could someone deliver us
And send us some kind of sign?
So close to giving up
'Cause faith is so hard to find

I don't believe in Fate. Not in the sense of an unalterable destiny, some grim, unavoidable future that sweeps us up and dashes us against the rocks of predetermined events. Such visions reduce us to insensate flotsam bobbing in a maelstrom we can neither control nor escape.

Perhaps this is hubris.

If it is, I'd rather be guilty of overweening pride than fall victim to the kind of attenuated ennui that afflicts so many of my generation; the effete moral lethargy that automatically equates faith with oppression, disagreement with censorship, the capacity for moral judgment with racism and intolerance. But oddly enough, though I doubt the existence of a fixed destiny, I've never for a moment doubted that some things happen for a reason.

Perhaps they happen to offer us a choice, a fork in the road. What we do, when we come to that fork, reveals our character for all the world to see:

America is caught up in a debate of whether we should bring our troops home or if we should make one last attempt to bring peace and stability to Iraq. Yet, we don’t pay attention to the details of the war. Last weekend, an American hero received one of the Army’s highest honors – a Silver Star. His award was largely unnoticed, overshadowed by Paris Hilton’s incarceration.

Late last year, Major James Gant and his men were returning home to Baghdad after weeks of fighting insurgents. Gant and his advisory team were riding in up-armored HMMWVs. These were not the HMMWVs of Jessica Lynch’s era. These were mini-tanks on tires with bullet proof-glass, blast-proof armor plate and turret mounted machineguns. His men, Iraqi National Police, were riding in soft-skinned trucks.

gant.jpg

Gant and his interpreter, Mack, in front of their up-armored HMMWV

Al-Qaeda had planned an elaborate running ambush in which they hoped to destroy the unit that had been their nemesis for more than a month. They had prepared three separate ambush sites along a four kilometer stretch of road. Gant and his commandos were forced to run a gauntlet of machinegun fire, mortar attacks and IEDs. The story of Gant’s, fight that day is an amazing tale of heroism, filled with scenes you would expect to see on the silver screen. Gant repeatedly risked his life to save others. The insurgents had planted IEDs hoping that an explosion would force the embattled convoy to stop.

Gant ordered his driver to drive straight for the first IED. As they rolled within twenty feet, the device detonated. Miraculously, Gant’s HMMWV was unscathed. Gant kept the column moving through a vicious gun battle. Another IED lie only five hundred yards ahead. Again, they went after the planted explosive and, again, a thunderous explosion failed to disable Gant’s vehicle. Almost clear of the ambush, Gant noticed a third IED. He continued to push forward, bringing his convoy safely through the torrent of fire. Had Gant hesitated, good men would have died.

Last weekend, Major Gant spoke at his award ceremony. He has personally made the sacrifice to bring peace and stability to the people of Iraq, and he continues to sacrifice every day. Here is what a soldier, a hero, had to say about our current debate:
The best friend I have ever had is an Iraqi. He is the best man I have ever known. He fought with me on 11 December. He can’t go home after a hard day of work. He can’t see his father or mother or brother. He can’t live any type of normal life because every time he leaves the [Green Zone], people want to kill him. I bet you would not be so fast to want to leave here if you knew him.

If you knew Colonel Dhafer, a great commander and leader, ...one of the best friends I have ever had, if you knew Major Fadil, who pulled me out of a burning [HMMWV]…, if you knew Captain Khais, if you knew Salaam, or Abbas, or Ali; all are brave warriors who fought with incredible courage that day and I would gladly and without hesitation lay my life down for all of them. If you knew them as I do, you would not be so quick to want to leave. If you could see with your own eyes the evil that is perpetrated on innocent men, women and children here on a daily basis, you would not be so quick to call it quits.

Colonel Dhafer, you and brave men like you are the hope and future of your country. I wish I were the hope and future of my country. Because if I were, I would not leave you until this job was done. No matter the sacrifice. No matter the price.

dhafer.jpg

Colonel Dhafer congratulating Major Gant

Is it any wonder that so many Americans don’t understand what we are doing in Iraq, when the Main Stream Media does not tell us stories like that of Major James Gant and his Iraqi comrades? How can we understand the Iraqi people when we don’t even know what our sons and daughters are doing to bring peace and stability to the people of Iraq?

Iraq is so much more than car bombs and IEDs.

Richard S. Lowry is the award winning author of the best selling book, “Marines in the Garden of Eden,” Berkley, New York, 2006. He is an internationally recognized military historian and author. Richard served in the U.S. Navy Submarine Service from 1967-1975 and spent the time from 1975 to 2002 designing sophisticated integrated circuits for everything from aircraft avionics to home computers. Richard turned to serious writing after 9/11 and published “The Gulf War Chronicles,” iUniverse, New York, in 2002. He is currently working on his next book project. “The Surge” will tell of General Petraeus’ attempt to win the peace in Iraq. For more information on Richard and his work, visit www.marinesinthegardenofeden.com.

I haven't told you what prompted my little dissertation on Fate. This morning something magical happened, or at least it seemed so to me.

Someone stopped by and left a comment on something I wrote a long time ago:

How often have I wished that this were all just a bad dream I could wake up from? That there would be no more somber dawns when I check my email hoping for a joke and learn, instead, that somewhere halfway across America a uniformed Marine waits on a silent doorstep, dreading that moment when he must forever shatter someone's world? Or know that someone like me is haunted by the memory of suddenly stilled laughter, a remembered joke, or just the gladdening sight of that brightly haloed energy that seems to forever surround the young? They seem to get younger every year. To those of us with children of our own, they often seem just babies. Our children. Our darlings.

Our own.

The thing about Wash is this: I didn't know him, but someone I love did. Someone I have never met, but who has come in that odd alchemy that is the Internet to be incredibly dear to me. And so I mourn for him too. He has become family. I don't understand this, but it is one of the strange changes that began to transform me on September 11th. I don't think I will ever be the same person I was before that awful morning. It was so much easier for me to shut things out then, to pretend they had nothing to do with me. To close my eyes and pretend they weren't there.

But the thing I understand, though I didn't know Wash, is that he was there when it counted. It was important to him to be there. Whatever he thought in the still hours of the night when the stars slip out one by one to stand watch with lonely men half a world away, he wasn't a child or a fool or, as those links I didn't click on stridently averred, someone who died for George Bush. He was a man, a warrior, someone who took pride in what he did. Someone who, even though he joined the Marines to fight, did his job well and without complaint.

He was, quite simply, a sheepdog.

And so, when I read things like this, even though I may be momentarily tempted to feel bitter, to become cynical, to throw in with the 'it's not worth it' crowd, I have to stop and remember who I am. And more importantly, who they were. And are: the Americans and the Iraqis who stand between us and those who would destroy everything we hold dear.

It's easy to make generalizations, to lump people into categories. But what if Iraq judged us all by Harry Reid? Dear God in heaven, what if they judge us by our Congress? That is not the test.

The burden of civilization has always been carried upon the backs of a very few. Most of us are free riders; we coast on the efforts of far better men than we can ever hope to be. And if we are relying on the mainstream media to bring us tales of heroism and honesty and integrity, I fear we shall wait a very long time. Yet those tales exist.

Ask Major Gantt.

And then put this war, with all its casualties and daily setbacks, its moments of triumph and bitter shame, into the context of history. This is a letter, not a binding parliamentary vote. How often have bills come up in our own Congress only to wither on the vine for lack of support when push came to shove? And as to our losses, though they are grievous they too have a place in history. The total number of casualties we've suffered since 2001 is roughly comparable to our losses in one day at the battle of Normandy.

One day.

Yet we say we are tired of war. We have had enough of suffering. We, the richest nation on earth, cannot afford to go on.

But we support the troops, who believe in what they are doing. Oddly, they are not too tired; though they don't spend their time relaxing in comfortable surroundings, shopping and surfing the Internet as we here at home do. They are too busy. I will give up when they say it is time to give up, and not one moment sooner.

Because they are the ones who have bought and paid for this fight with their blood. They are the ones who are there, seeing it all first hand. They are the ones I trust to tell me when it is time, and we owe them something.

We owe them a little bit of intestinal fortitude. Because everything in life is a choice, and it's what you do when you come to those difficult forks in the road that shows what you are made of. Somehow it seems to me that our road is not all that hard.

And our path is crystal clear; at least if honor still means anything.

Posted by Cassandra at 03:22 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

May 01, 2007

A Willful Blindness, II

For now we see through a glass, darkly;
but then face to face:
now I know in part;
but then shall I know
even as also I am known.

- 1 Corinthians 13, verse 11

Tuesday dawns slowly as I eye my alarm clock with loathing. Raindrops drum on the roof like giant fingertips on some invisible tabletop as a lone bird pipes merrily in the tree just outside my bedroom window, cheekily ignoring the now slackening shower. Any moment now I shall spring forth with alacrity from betwixt the marital sheets to do battle with the ungodly. Any moment now...

As I wait for Alacrity to make her appearance I snuggle under the covers for a few more moments. Sadly, my mind refuses to remain as luxuriously indolent as my still drowsy limbs. To hell with Alacrity - time to make the donuts. I shuffle out to the kitchen to prepare that steaming concoction that helps me hang on, but as it turns out the real jolt comes courtesy of Driscoll and Lileks:

It's good for an old liberal like me to read history and recognize that Eisenhower was no dolt and Adlai Stevenson was no giant. And to read about Joe McCarthy and realize that, opportunist and blowhard that he was, he was hardly the embodiment of evil that we liberals cherished as an enemy. We made the people he attacked into heroes but McCarthyism was very small potatoes. Alger Hiss was not the victim of a witch hunt; he was a witch. The big story was taking place in Russia and Eastern Europe, in China, and in Cuba, places where evil ruled with an open hand, but a great many Democrats refused to see it. This refusal was a reaction against anti-communists such as Richard Nixon — if he said the sun rose in the east, then we would look off to the west and maybe build mirrors there so as to be able to argue the point — and this gave the Democratic party a reputation for appeasement that has crippled us ever since.

Dear God in heaven, did the earth just shift on its axis? Garrison, we hardly knew ye! Suddenly nothing makes sense any more; I am adrift in a universe bereft of God, moral absolutes, and (apparently) capital letters and punctuation marks:

i drink myself of newfound pity
sitting alone in new york city
and i dont know why.

Oh. Never mind. Stopped too soon:

It's an interesting admission. You might almost expect him to add that his ceaseless ad hominem depictions of the other side (As he puts it in his latest book: "hairy-backed swamp developers and corporate shills, faith-based economists, see-through fundamentalist bullies with Bibles, Christians of convenience, freelance racists, hobby cops, misanthropic frat boys, lizardskin cigar monkeys, jerktown romeos, ...") might have blinded him to the fact that we do have enemies, and he might want to spill as much ink worrying about the utterly illiberal forces we're fighting as he spends sneering at the Current Occupant. Alas:

And now something similar is happening to Republicans. They are following the Current Occupant down a road that will be disastrous to them for years to come. They are defending the indefensible.

See, he was wrong before, but he's absolutely right about this now.

The Editorial Staff has often noted the regrettable tendency of the reality based community to proudly display their latest outbreak of Tourette's syndrome as though it were some priceless bon mot. It only increases the deliciousness that such precious pearls are invariably displayed on the bumpers of legions of late-model Asian compact cars belching noxious fumes into Gaia's fragile biosphere; all whilst barrelling down MD I-270 at a galloping 50 mph during rush hour. Read this, oh neo-neocons, and weep!

We are all entitled to our own opinions
But not our own facts

Words to live by. Ah, but whose set of facts? Whom should we believe? That is what we seem to fight over, more than anything. Every day brings a new parade of Generals lined up for our inspection like toy soldiers, pressed and starched. Righteous outrage stiffens their spines. They couldn't speak out before they earnestly inform us, but now at long last these huddled masses who yearned so long to breathe freely have piped up from retirement to tell us what has been on their minds.

They knew all along. We were being deceived, led down the proverbial garden path, and They Knew.

They just didn't tell us that the Deceivers were deceiving us.

Except somewhere, a still, small voice inside the back of my head keeps whispering, "If everything they say is true, doesn't that make them willing accomplices in The DeceptionTM

Doesn't that make them deceivers too?" No, they are men of Integrity, because they are Bringing The Truthiness now. And We Must Not Question Their Integrity, nor their Patriotism. In fact, we must not ask any questions at all. It's unAmerican. How does a lie become a lie? How do transparently false but politically useful bits of trickery like the ubiquitous cakewalk meme take on a life of their own?

Easy. They have the ring of truthiness. And we are lazy. We believe what we want to believe so long as it fits our preconceived version of reality. We distrust George Bush and his evil neocon warmongers, so any smear against them is accepted at face value. No need for actual facts. The calumny we spread may not be literally true, but somewhere, somehow we're convinced they represent a larger, Emotional Truth. Amusingly enough, I see in my morning travels throughout the Intertubes that Arianna Puffington, cheeky thing, has strayed off the reservation again:

Arianna Huffington, of all people, points out a problematic issue with George tenet's new book.

Does this sound familiar? A senior Bush administration official plays a key role in selling the Iraq war debacle to the American public, resigns a few years later, and then tries to distance himself from Bush and the war by writing a book or talking to Bob Woodward, portraying himself as a poor, hapless victim who knew the truth at the time and really, really wanted to tell it, but, somehow, just had no choice but to go along.
What else could he do?

Each version of this contemptible tale shares the same fatal flaw. It requires that the remedy that was readily available — resignation — did not exist.

Dale Franks snarks from the sidelines:

In this he shares the same sort of attitude as former antiterrorism guy Richard Clarke, who was oh-so-angry at the neocons, but apparently, not quite upset enough to prevent sticking it out until retirement.

Look, people of good faith can argue endlessly about what happened between 9/11 and the Iraq invasion, and what went wrong, and why. But, there's something unseemly about working for years in an administration—apparently with enough loyalty and distinction to get your pretty blue PMF medal ribbon—then turning around and crapping all over your former employer while attempting to hold yourself blameless.

Me-ouch, grrrlfiend! This has always bothered me about the unseemly parade of truth-tellers, repressed memory sufferers, leakers-who-speak-only-on-the-condition-that-they-not-be-identified-because-they-are-not-authorized-to-speak-to-the-media, and retrospective navel gazers who only after several years of collecting a generous pension from Uncle Sam, have discovered they can afford to indulge their consciences. They all share something in common. They have already betrayed someone's trust once, yet we're supposed to believe them now?

It's their word against the people on the front lines; the ones who are taking the full brunt of public disfavor for making unpopular decisions and - what's more - sticking with them. Why does anyone pay attention to these people, or at the least why don't we examine their various pronouncements more critically, or at least as critically as we do those of other public servants?

Why do we argue so much over foreign policy? In a must-read essay, Henry Nau argues that our perspectives on reality cause us to weigh the same information differently, bringing this or that subset of facts to the fore to support our world view:

Theorists of international relations have long recognized three principal ways to think about the world and select and evaluate facts. The realist perspective thinks about the world primarily in terms of a struggle for power, alliances, and the threat and use of force. The liberal perspective looks at it more in terms of expanding cooperation and complex interdependence through trade, negotiations, and international institutions. The ideational or what political scientists today call constructivist or identity perspective sees it largely in terms of what people and states believe — the ideas, norms, and values they share that shape their discourse and identity. Many of us are familiar with these perspectives or simplified versions of international relations theories (the theories themselves become endlessly complex), but we may not fully understand how directly they influence our day-to-day debates.

It's a great piece and well worth reading. But at the end of the day whether you take a realist, a liberal or an indeationist approach to foreign policy it's hard to ignore the fact that the guy with the C4 vest strapped to his body holds a virtual trump card over your too-precious theories. This is what I can never get past.

Over the weekend I thought about our two worlds; the world I live in, where people leave doors unlocked and wave at their neighbors, drive on mostly paved roads and know that if something bad happens we can call 911 and the police, ambulances, or fire trucks will arrive promptly to help us deal with whatever "emergency" threatens. And that other world. I actually saw someone call 911 because their child had a nosebleed.

A nosebleed.

And then there is the world which caused a man I once knew to take his own life. He couldn't reconcile the world we live in with that other world; a world where, when you drive down the road everything is a potential threat. Shadows are hiding places. Every man, woman, or child who passes is sized up as a threat risk.

He sojourned there for a time, a stranger wandering in a strange land. And then he returned and his old world, the one which gave him life, opened its arms to gather him in again. But he couldn't let go of that dark place, not entirely.

Was he broken on that dark wheel? Was his sight distorted by his travels in that far away land or did the scales just fall from his eyes, allowing him to see things as there really are? Don't tell me it's a matter of perspective, that it's all relative. A friend of mine's small daughter has leukemia. Not the kind that killed my nephew. This type is more treatable. Yesterday I asked, "How's the munchkin?"

He said, "Things are going well - she's heading into the hardest phase of treatment, but she's holding up. We all are."

I said, "Well, what I always think after a particularly bad migraine you really savor even the tiniest things. Like just a day without pain. Even colors seem brighter - I can spend minutes just looking at the sunlight on a wall simply because it doesn't hurt to do it. That is a joy some people never get to experience." He laughed. The thing is - the bad things, evil, pain, death, murder - they have always been out there. They have always lurked in our hearts.

A thin veneer of civilization is all that separates us from the utter chaos that is in parts - but not all - of Iraq and Afghanistan right now.

Forms of government matter. Ideas matter. They have the power to transform lives, but only if they are backed by the will to enforce law and make justice a living presence rather than a dusty tool on some politician's shelf. And it requires a willful blindness to speak of consensus and dialogues and mutual understandings in a world where madmen are still willing to play the trump card of force.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:00 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

April 11, 2007

We All Fight Under One Flag

 

A Glimmer of Hope

Richard S. Lowry

Here are some pictures and stories you won’t see on TV or in your hometown newspapers.

 

iraqi_girl.jpg

A little girl walks through a street in Old Baqubah as American and Iraqi Soldiers patrol the neighborhood April 3. The mission was part of an ongoing effort by Soldiers of Company A, 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, Iraqi Army soldiers and Iraqi policemen to clear the neighborhood of insurgents and secure the local marketplace. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Antonieta Rico)

 

Black Hawk Troops find persistence key to victory on
Haifa Street
By Spc. Alexis Harrison
2nd BCT, 1st Cav. Div. Public Affairs
Multi-National Division – Baghdad PAO

BAGHDAD — Troops from 4th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division patrol the Haifa Street area daily, shadowed by scores of children who greet them at every stop they make to ask for chocolate or a soccer ball.

Most of the Soldiers don't mind handing out a couple sweets for the children to enjoy while they trek through the war-torn neighborhood the children call home.

The "Black Hawk" Troop, commanded by Capt. Chris Dawson, who hails from Lima, Ohio, provides an essential service to residents who've been through so many violent times: peace of mind.

1st Lt. Brian Long, a fire support officer and "Blue” Platoon’s leader from Jacksonville, Fla., said there's nothing more important than getting to know the people in the area and addressing their concerns.

He said that even months after the heaviest of fighting happened, people are still coming to his troops with information and questions on what's happened in recent months.

The troop took over the area after a heavy bout of insurgent activity forced many to flee their homes or hide for their own safety. Several days of fighting occurred before the Cavalry troops finally slaked the violence, allowing many people to come back and start to live their lives.

Attacks on Coalition Forces have since dropped by more than 50 percent in the area. Dozens of bodies were found along sectarian fault lines in the area, but since the new security plan has been established, the Black Hawk troops have not found a single body lying in the street or anywhere in their sector.

Bringing peace to neighborhoods like this one is one of the major improvements the Soldiers from the 2nd “Black Jack” Brigade have been able to accomplish since they arrived last year.

However, as one Soldier recounts, it wasn't as peaceful the last time he was here.

Staff Sgt. Jebediah Arthur was with 3rd Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd BCT, 1st Cav. Div., a few years ago when the 1st Cavalry Division was in Baghdad during Operation Iraqi Freedom II. He said heavy fighting was a regular occurrence for him and his troops.

The Moran, Texas native said that Iraqis weren't always as friendly as they are now. They used to shy away from any contact with Soldiers and wouldn't provide more than a cold stare or an unfriendly gesture.

Now, everywhere the Soldiers go, they are greeted like visitors to an almost second home. The people, in the community Arthur and his comrades visit, speak freely to them and often provide an inside look into what's really happening in their community.

"It's finally gotten to where they can come and talk to us and work with everyone," Arthur said. "Acting professionally helps, but they actually see the results of the information they give us. I think that's been the key to our success over here this time."

The troops have been busy with other duties than just patrolling the busy streets. Recently, a medical operation headed by the troop and other Soldiers from the brigade took place to bring some much-needed care to the residents.

The leaders of the troop realize how important it is to continue their work and not to give up on the people of the area.

Long said that the coalition forces have gained a lot of momentum against violence in the area.

"Being out there every day is a good way to dispel the rumors that we're not doing anything but inhibiting the growth of these neighborhoods," Long said. "We are seeing improvements, and we are appreciated by the people we interact with."

"In 10 years,” Arthur said, “we'll probably be vacationing here.”

long.jpg

1st Lt. Brian Long, fire support officer and "Blue" Platoon leader from Jacksonville, Fla.,
watches some Iraqi children play soccer in the Karkh neighborhood of Baghdad April 5.
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Alexis Harrison, 2nd BCT, 1st Cav. Div. Public Affairs)

 

Dawson.jpg

Capt. Chris Dawson, a native of Lima, Ohio and commander of Troop B, 4th
Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry
Division, leads a playful chant with some Iraqi children in Baghdad’s Karkh
neighborhood April 5. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Alexis Harrison, 2nd BCT, 1st
Cav. Div. Public Affairs)

 

Arthur.jpg

Staff Sgt. Jebediah Arthur, a Moran, Texas, native and fire support team chief
with Troop B, 4th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team,
1st Cavalry Division, patrols the streets of Baghdad’s Karkh neighborhood,
shadowed by Iraqi children requesting chocolate and soccer balls April 5. (U.S.
Army photo by Spc. Alexis Harrison, 2nd BCT, 1st Cav. Div. Public Affairs)
Iraqi Army soldiers have been clearing homes and businesses throughout the Yarmouk district of the nation’s capital city. The Iraqi Army soldiers also cleared the area of trash piles and abandoned vehicles which had allowed terrorists to place and hide IEDs.

repairs.jpg

(U.S. Army photo by 1st Lt. Quinn Robertson, 2nd Battalion, 32nd Field Artillery Regiment)

Minnesota Army National Guard Soldiers and Iraqi citizens of Al Batha recently restored 15 kilometers of Al Batha city streets in southern Iraq.

street_before.jpg


Before


street_after.jpg


After


bridge_before.jpg

The old bridge to the village of Bahkan, Iraq before the 1-125 Field Artillery civil military
operations team began the project of constructing a new bridge through local
contractors. (Photo by Capt. Paul Rickert, 1-125 Unit Public Affairs Representative)

bridge_after.jpg

A Minnesota National Guard Soldier shakes hands with an official from Bakhan, Iraq on
the newly constructed bridge to the village surrounded by canals. (Photo by Capt. Paul
Rickert, 1-125 Unit Public Affairs Representative)


FOB Hammer, Iraq – Col. Fadhil Abbas, commander of the Iraqi Army’s Bey May Eagles, had dinner with members of the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team’s 3-1 Cavlary Regiment Sunday at the Bes Maya Range Complex near FOB Hammer east of Baghdad.

“My brothers, I am so excited that you are all here,” said Abbas. “I look forward to working with you as one family. The Iraqi team and the American team is one team and I want to have a high level of cooperation. My Iraqi soldiers love their American Soldiers as brothers.”

Abbas also assured Kolasheski that the tribal division that had hindered Iraq’s army in the past was not a problem with the unit under his command. “All my soldiers fight under one flag,” said Abbas, as he pointed to the Iraqi flag on his wall. “No more clans or separate religions here. We all worship one God and fight under one flag.

 

 

Words to live by.

Posted by Cassandra at 01:47 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

March 26, 2007

The Beast Within

“It is well that war is so terrible
or we should grow too fond of it.”

A few months ago, I found a Web site loaded with pictures and videos from Iraq, the sort that usually aren't seen on the news. I watched insurgent snipers shoot American soldiers and car bombs disintegrate markets, accompanied by tinny music and loud, rhythmic chanting, the soundtrack of the propaganda campaigns. Video cameras focused on empty stretches of road, building anticipation. Humvees rolled into view and the explosions brought mushroom clouds of dirt and smoke and chunks of metal spinning through the air. Other videos and pictures showed insurgents shot dead while planting roadside bombs or killed in firefights and the remains of suicide bombers, people how they're not meant to be seen, no longer whole. The images sickened me, but their familiarity pulled me in, giving comfort, and I couldn't stop. I clicked through more frames, hungry for it. This must be what a shot of dope feels like after a long stretch of sobriety. Soothing and nauseating and colored by everything that has come before. My body tingled and my stomach ached, hollow. I stood on weak legs and walked into the kitchen to make dinner. I sliced half an onion before putting the knife down and watching slight tremors run through my hand. The shakiness lingered. I drank a beer. And as I leaned against this kitchen counter, in this house, in America, my life felt very foreign.

I've been home from Iraq for more than a year, long enough for my time there to become a memory best forgotten for those who worried every day that I was gone. I could see their relief when I returned. Life could continue, with futures not so uncertain. But in quiet moments, their relief brought me guilt. Maybe they assume I was as overjoyed to be home as they were to have me home. Maybe they assume if I could do it over, I never would have gone. And maybe I wouldn't have. But I miss Iraq. I miss the war. I miss war. And I have a very hard time understanding why.

The condemnation was swift, as though a raw nerve ending had been untimely exposed: "You're sick, twisted, perverse." "I don't believe you ever served." "You're a disgrace to the uniform." From whence did this sudden anger spring, this harsh judgment from the protected?

Not all were so eager to condemn. They too had felt that strange tug. Others, less inclined to judge what they could not understand, felt only regret mixed with a a sense of indebtedness:

There are many reasons I'm so serious about supporting our military men and women, why I feel it's a moral obligation. It's not just a sense of "they have suffered for me," though that is certainly part of it. What really pulls on me and compels a response is the warfighter's loss of innocence due to actions taken on my behalf.

...One former Marine friend has told me that he still habitually runs mental threat assessments (and plans countermeasures) on every person he encounters. He also once described his training and wartime experience as discovering, harnessing and ultimately mastering the beast inside him that we all have, one that lies dormant unless awakened by experience or intent. And Lex has written of the strange obsession the pilot finds in the violence of bombing runs. More recently, a soldier still on the ground in Iraq wrote of "war cocaine."

Mockenhaupt continues:

At a party several years ago, long before the Army, I listened to a friend who had served several years in the Marines tell a woman that if she carried a pistol for a day, just tucked in her waistband and out of sight, she would feel different. She would see the world differently, for better or worse. Guns empower. She disagreed and he shrugged. No use arguing the point; he was just offering a little piece of truth. He was right, of course. And that's just the beginning.

... One reason I feel compelled to support our veterans is the gift they give of themselves; in many ways, they lose their innocence so that I can keep mine.

But of what does that innocence consist; how real is it? I can't help but think the ire Mockenhaupt's words aroused was really no more than anger at having one's pretentions exposed for all to see. He spoke of something we prefer to keep hidden, awakened the ever present fear of our true nature, smoothed over with a too fragile layer of civilization.

I have never been to war. For a woman, perhaps the closest analogous experience is childbirth. But even here society displays the same almost primal fear of something they cannot control, of a process older than time.

Having a child is about as different from going to war as two experiences can possibly be. The first gives life, the second rips it away. And yet, like war, carrying another life within you for nine months and nursing it yourself changes a person in ways someone who has never done these things cannot fully appreciate. I tend to think even being fully awake and aware during childbirth does this. Pain is not something anyone looks forward to, and yet there is something to be said for facing and overcoming it; for learning that neither fear nor pain has the power to turn you into a quivering jellyfish. And there is nothing to compare with that exhausted yet triumphant moment when they place your son over your heart and you feel him move, and know that you did this. For a moment, time seems to stop and the world shrinks to a tiny, light-filled space encompassing only the three of you. And nothing will ever be that perfect, or that peaceful, again.

The other thing which amazed me about motherhood was how exquisitely attuned I became to my small sons, how alert I was to the tiniest differences in their cries that meant they were hungry as opposed to merely tired or overstimulated or lonely or coming down with a virus. How they would wake just as I fell asleep each night, though we were never on the same schedule. Articles on parenting almost invariably cautioned me not to "lose" myself in this new experience. I always thought this unutterably stupid. How could I "lose" me? If anything, something had been added and not subtracted from who I had been. This heightened sensitivity served a purpose. It allowed me to empathize with and care for a totally dependent infant unable to articulate his own needs. What kind of responsible adult repudiated such a tool? When it was no longer needed, it would go away.

And I was not made "less" because I temporarily cared for someone weaker than myself, because I performed somewhat menial tasks. These jobs still needed to be done and it required my judgment to do them well. I always wondered at the insecurity and fear which made so many of my sex recoil from motherhood, from survival skills ingrained as deeply in their natures as their DNA. I wonder if it is not that same insecurity and fear that drove those readers to condemn Brian Mockenhaupt; the knowledge that deep down inside, they are no different, no better, than he:

Armed Liberal wrote about the problem of those who 'keep their hands clean,' never hunting, buying meat prepackaged and without an awareness of the moral cost. I disagree: there is no moral cost. We are monsters, who butcher though it creates mounds of gore: who sever heads, and find it moves us though we know not why.

But it isn't killing that makes us monsters. We are exactly that same kind of creature, whether we have ever killed or not.

The moral problem of 'the clean hands' is that it is an illusion. It makes people believe they are better than they are, and therefore that others can also be better than they can be. It creates a class of people who feel clean, because they have never felt blood on their hands.

Yet all these things arise from things buried deep in the genetic code. You cannot walk away from them. The failure to experience these things does not mean you would not react to them in just the same way as everyone else: it only means that you cannot understand how you would react, and how others do.

The man with clean hands is just the same as the hunter. It is only that he does not know it. He does not understand that part of his soul, as it lurks beyond his experience. He comes to believe that there is a kind of human that is and can be clean: perhaps that sweet, aged lady on the corner, who in her youth broke necks every night before dinner.

Failing to understand what Man really is, he opens himself more than is wise, and defends himself less. The man with the clean hands believes in diplomacy but not the force that makes diplomacy viable. He believes in staying clean, because he believes it makes him better than you. He does not understand that it only makes him blind.

This is not a call to amoralism, but precisely the opposite. It is a call for true morality, which can only begin with awareness of sin. It can only come from a recognition of how deep-set, how permanent, how personal sin is in each of us.

It is only in that way that we can begin to put real chains on sin: by recognizing the truth about it. We must learn to face the truth about ourselves, so that we can better ourselves: we must learn to face the truth about others, so we will recognize when murder is in their hearts.

We have the capacity to be devils or angels; what lies beneath is neither innately good nor innately evil. It is, rather, the choices we make which drive us toward heaven or hell. If we fear anything, it ought to be the cloying moral paralysis that leads to a denial of the darkness in human nature: both that in other men, and in our own hearts.

Posted by Cassandra at 11:07 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

March 19, 2007

Fools and Idiots

Of all the wonders that I yet have heard,
It seems to me most strange that men should fear;
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.

-Julius Caesar, Act 2 scene 2

Quite some time ago I read a thing that, quite literally, left me speechless.

I love words. They are the tools I use, albeit often poorly, to argue, to urge, to harry, to convince, to restore confidence when it seems to be flagging.

To acknowledge debt, to say farewell. But though a million responses came to mind to what I read that day, for once I had no desire to argue with it. It seemed to me that the lofty sentiment advanced by Mr. Cavett for our consideration - that there is nothing worth fighting, worth dying for; that we humans are merely the sum of our most primitive survival instincts, was so obscene that it merited no reply.

So it seemed to me that day. And yet I have been troubled by his words ever since, for a nation which cannot see what is wrong with that idea is a nation gone adrift. Of course, that is only one opinion and I am only one person. And yet I cannot think of anything that would make me take it back.

I would, quite literally, give my own life before I would accept a world in which people who believe that were in charge. And so I submit for your consideration, if not your reply, these words:

I have a statement: Anybody who gives his life in war is an idiot.

I guess I left off the quotation marks to let the words have their full effect. They aren’t mine, but I’m related to them. They’re my Uncle Bill’s words, and his credentials for uttering the remark are a shade better than mine.

He may well have been the sole Marine to have survived driving landing barges on three bloody invasions in the South Pacific. I asked an old Marine vet once how rare Bill’s survival was. He was gifted of speech: “I’d say survivors of what your uncle did could probably hold their reunion in a phone booth and still have room for most of Kate Smith.” (We’ll pause while youngsters Google.) “My guess is that your uncle is unique.”

Bill said that aside from knowing that any minute was likely to be your last, the worst part of the job was having to drop the landing barge’s front door so the guys could swarm out onto the beach. Despite the hail of bullets against that door, he had to drop it, knowing that the front five or six guys would be killed instantly.

The phrase Bill hated most was “gave his life.” That phrase is a favorite of our windbag politicians; especially, it seems, the dimmer ones who say “Eye-rack.”

“Your life isn’t given,” I remember him saying, “it’s brutally ripped away from you. You’re no good to your buddies dead, and when the bullets start pouring in you don’t give a goddamn about God, country, Yale, your loved ones, the last full measure of devotion or any other of that Legionnaire patriotic crapola. You just want you and your buddies to see at least one more sunrise.”

Bill also served on land and experienced something so god-awful that he thought he would go mad: “Tom [his best friend] and I were trotting along, firing our rifles, and I turned to say something to Tom and his head was gone.” (Bill had great difficulty telling this. I guess I felt honored that he had not been able to speak of it for years.) He said the worst part was that while still holding the rifle, the body, now a fountain, continued for four or five steps before falling. He hated to close his eyes at night because that ghastly horror was his dependable nightly visitor for years — like Macbeth, murdering sleep.

...The other word Bill hated was “sacrifice.” Sacrifice is something you give up in order to get something in return. What good are we getting from this monstrous error? Cooked up as it was by that infamous group of neocons (accent on last syllable) who, draft-averse themselves, were willing to inflict on the (largely unprivileged) youth of this country their crack-brained scheme for causing democracy to take root and spread like kudzu throughout that bizarre and ill-understood part of the world, the Middle East.

What service is this great country getting out of all this tragedy, other than the certainty that historians will ask in disbelief, “Was there no one to stand up to this overweening president?”

I cringe at the icky, sentimental way the president talks about what we owe to the people of plucky little Iraq. You’d think we all grew up ending our “Now I lay me down to sleep…” with “… and please, Lord, be good to Iraq.” They detest us now, along with just about everybody else. Personally, I don’t give a damn what happens to Iraq, and don’t think it’s worth a single American life. Or any other kind. Haven’t philosophers taught us the immorality of destroying something of infinite value — like a human life — in order to achieve a possible good? I guess not.

I have a confession to make. I never made it to the end of that article. I bailed in the middle of Mr. Cavett's recounting of the time he and his buddy thought it would be amusing to startle his shell-shocked uncle with a firecracker.

There are valid reasons not to support this war. Mr. Cavett argues none of them.

Nor does he bother to refute any of the arguments his opponents (many of them Marines and soldiers who support them so strongly they are willing to give - yes, give - their lives to defend them) put forth. Why bother? They are, by Uncle Bill's definition (and he has unimpeachable moral authority to opine on this matter) idiots.

Nor need we be unduly dismayed by Mr. Cavett's own childish cruelty. With age comes wisdom and hopefully some measure of understanding and compassion. In adulthood, Mr. Cavett has forsworn firecrackers for the far more important task of pointing out fools and idiots to his readers.

Peralta.jpg

Mr. Cavett worries about a future in which historians will ask: “Was there no one to stand up to this overweening president?”

Surely he is not surprised at the failure of his own side to stand up for what they believed in. After all, by his own argument, reasonable folk have a decent regard for their own survival.

Only fools and idiots insist on fighting for what they believe in.

The comments are closed on this post.

Posted by Cassandra at 05:17 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 15, 2007

Operation Iraqi Truth

In the Washington Times, Roy Blunt waxes... downright blunt about the situation on the ground:

House Democrats had an opportunity last week to send an unambiguous message of strength and resolve to our troops in harm's way in Iraq, to our allies and enemies around the world and to Americans here at home.

Instead, they used the occasion to announce a timetable for wholesale retreat, declare their intention to hand over command-and-control authority in Iraq to 535 commanders in chief on Capitol Hill and, already on a roll, float the bizarre idea to close the terrorist detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and import hundreds of the most insidious elements of the worldwide terrorist network to the United States to process like common criminals. Quite a week, I would say.

Tomorrow Democrats will attempt to follow up that performance by bringing their plan to committee for executing their slow-bleed strategy in Iraq. But what we understand of the product now is enough to tell me their plan would yield disastrous results.

As the daughter of a Navy Captain who served in Vietnam and the wife of a currently serving Marine Colonel, I am appalled. Yes, I read the newspapers. But I do not incline to the koolaid-swilling, rush blindly off the cliff brand of press gang loyalty which cannot recognize problems when they stare me right in the face.

On the other hand, I am even less friendly to the my-ears-are-shut-to-anything-that-contradicts-my-world-view brand of Bush hatred which roots its deeply philosophical opposition to this war in fevered descriptions of the President's facial tics; or, when that doesn't work, launches into paranoic rants about how cabals of Jews control the sanctum sanctorii of government, or screams (oddly, while betraying not a trace of fear) that we now live in a police state where our civil rights have been eroded beyond hope of repair.

Odd how the very people who think Amerikkka is a militaristic police state also (paradoxically) think this fascist Götterdämmerung was ushered in by Bush's puppetmasters, The Jooos. It does not seem to have figured into the logical computations of these brainiacs that not only are Jews underrespresented as a demographic in the military, but historically (arguing, as always, against self-interest) Jews have been the most hostile as a religious group to the war on terror; two small data points which might lead a rational observer to the conclusion that the Democratic party's persistent attempts to invoke the spectre of Leo Strauss and his neocon minions are little more than the ravings of vicious anti-Semites.

On the otter heiny, it could be just a clever ruse.

But how did we ever get to this pass? How did we ever get to the point where large swathes of the American public give oxymoronic responses to poll questions about the war? "We support the troops, but we don't support the war." "Bring the troops home by 2008 but don't leave until Iraq is stable." "Congress is pushing too hard but we have more confidence in Congress than the White House."

Got confusion? I know I do. Can you imagine how the troops feel over in Iraq and Afghanistan, facing sniper fire and IEDs, separated from their families for months and years at a time, watching their friends get blown to bits and cut in half? How would you feel, if you read the papers every day and saw a war you didn't recognize, a never-ending parade of gloom and doom with no acknowledgment of your successes, never a report of the things you'd accomplished? Only a one-sided feast of death and dismemberment that praised the enemy's every move and cast you as a helpless, duped victim?

I know how I'd feel. Lost. Hurt. Confused. Betrayed.

How did we get to the point where we allow Congress to say they support our troops while undercutting everything they're trying to accomplish?

Let there be no confusion on that point. That is exactly what is happening. That is exactly what we, the People, are allowing our public servants, to do in our names. Is this truly our will?

It has happened because our so-called free press have abused their freedom but We, The People have not called them to account either. The media are a business and we are the consumers of their product. If you pay for a whole car and only half, or two-thirds of a car is delivered to you, would you not be dissatisfied? Certainly you would. If you pay for a 3-bedroom house and receive only a 1-bedroom house, would you recommend that builder to your friends? What about if you paid for a brand new car, yet put up the hood and found, not a brand new engine, but an old, defective one? Would you pay for that?

Of course you wouldn't, because you wouldn't pay for shoddy goods.

So why do we make major decisions, decisions of national and even global import, based on news passed to us by national media who continue to deliver half, or one-third, of the war news to us? Why do we not call them to account when they report to us that four mosques - four entire buildings - easily verifiable information - have been destroyed and fail to correct that information for a month and a half? Why do we allow them to continue to flog old news? When they continue to report, a good two years after the fact, that Joseph Wilson discredited those 16 words in the President's State of the Union address when multiple CIA sources from the Senate Select Intelligence Committee investigation testified UNDER OATH that not only was his "investigation" NEVER REPORTED to the White House, (and therefore Wilson's claim that the White House ignored his investigation was a lie) but that rather than debunking the idea that Iraq sought (not bought) yellowcake from Niger, his trip underscored it for most CIA analysts. Why are there not a flood of letters to the editor and cancelled subscriptions each time this mendacious tale appears?

I'll tell you why: because most people don't know it's not the truth. Just as most people don't know the other half of the story on the war. Yes, the violence has been bad in Iraq, but do you know the other side of the story? Have you noticed how all of a sudden, the number of stories on Baghdad seems to have diminished to a trickle? We are told there were no "good news" stories because there were none to tell. Now there are good news stories, but oddly, few of them seem to be making the front pages. Why is that?

What did make the papers this week? The news that General Peter Pace angered gay rights groups with a remark that he thought homosexuality was immoral. Do you know what else he said during that interview? Of course you don't. It didn't get reported:

During a broad discussion about the situation in Iraq, Pace said the U.S. military would not be able to fully succeed in its plan of sending 21,500 more combat troops and up to 7,000 support troops to Iraq if the Democrats are able to pass their proposed legislation.

The Democrats' plan, which centers on the withdrawal of all U.S. combat forces by September 2008, includes requirements that until then troops spend a minimum amount of time at their home bases before being redeployed.

The required rest periods would stop the U.S. military from reaching its plan of having 20 combat brigades deployed to Iraq. And at times, it could leave as few as 14 brigades on the battlefield, Pace said.

"We would have 45-day gaps, which would mean that part of a territory would basically be vacated to the enemy and ... you would have to fight your way back in," Pace said.

The legislation would allow Bush to waive those standards, but such a move could prove politically embarrassing to the White House, which has been lambasted by the Democratic leadership and some Republicans for stretching the military too thin.

Pace said the requirements could have "enormous impact" on the troops' efforts to stamp out the violence in Iraq.

Does anyone know what happens when our troops have to "fight their way back in"? The mission doesn't 'go away'. They bleed. And die. Democrats are making political hay on the bodies of our men and women in uniform. But this wasn't newsworthy. Neither was this little item, according to the major wire services:

In a remote city of roughly 30,000 on the Euphrates River, about 150 miles northwest of Baghdad, where American Marines are ramping up their assault on al Qaeda and other terrorist networks operating in al Anbar Province, a suicide bombing that wounded several Iraqi police officers but claimed no American casualties went largely unnoticed in the past week's run of news from the war front.

But this is what one Marine saw one day last week in Rawah, from an account relayed by satellite telephone to his father, a friend of ours, back home: The bomber detonated "about 60 pounds of explosives near a popular gathering spot for IP's [Iraqi Police], wounded several IP -- no Marines were injured.''

The Marine and Iraqi police "reassembled'' the body parts of the bomber to identify him: A "20-something Sunni… not local,'' from the ''Syrian border area."

This is nothing new there. "All insurgents want chaos – so all law enforcement targeted,'' reports the Marine, who speaks at the same time about his campaign of "winning the hearts and minds'' of Iraqis in the region. "I take care of my IP's and their families… shoes, food, and 'Beanie Babies' for their kids…

"Last week, I spent $80 out of pocket to bring rice, flour, and Chai to more Bedouins west of Rawah,'' he reports. "(An) elderly grandmother said, 'God sent you. You are like my son.'''

"Lots of rebuilding'' is taking place, with "contracts for rebuilding Rawah decided by local 'Tony Soprano' type,'' notes the Marine, comparing the place to "China in the 1920s… war lords versus warlords.'' There are 16 rebuilding projects underway in Rawah, he says – ''Contracts awarded along 'tribal' lines – unfortunately $10,000 jobs become $90,000 completions.''

"All suicide bombers are outsiders,'' the Marine reports. "Rawah people want to improve their lives.''

The 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion from Camp LeJeune, N.C., has lost three Marines, with 20 wounded and 85 surviving the attacks of improvised explosive devices, rocket-propelled grenades, 81 mm rocket grenades and small arms fire. They have "killed and imprisoned large number of insurgents.''

"Each morning,'' the Marine tells his dad, "I ask God, 'What have you planned for me today Lord?'''

But according to the New York Times, the United States military is not the solution. They are the problem. And you should be afraid. Very afraid.

Because that outstretched hand is never outstretched in friendship, at least for most of the lamestream media:

Although Marines from the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion had posted security up and down the street in the city of roughly 30,000 people, ready for any situation, Maj. Sean Quinlan's hands weren't anywhere near his own weapon.

Instead, his hands were gripping those of the elderly men around him in friendly greeting. Mostly former school teachers, the Iraqi's told Quinlan, the commanding officer for the Company D "Outlaws," about exactly what he could do for them to make their city better.

During the patrol, it meant helping out a 3-year-old girl, daughter to one of the Iraqi elders.

Months back, in her innocent curiosity, she pulled a pot of boiling liquid from the stove. Marines remember ushering the family's vehicle quickly through checkpoints to get the child to a hospital to treat her severe burns. Petty Officer 3rd Class Derek Parker, a 25-year-old Navy corpsman from Morris, Okla., joined Quinlan and the rest of the group to see how he could help with the girl's constant pain.

At the time, Parker didn't have any ointment or medication that could help the girl, so Quinlan made a promise to the men. Several hours later, that promise was fulfilled when the Outlaws returned with supplies.

"Her father put his hand over his heart, looked me in the eye and shook my hand," said Parker, who has children of his own. "The family was very happy with us, they really seemed to like that we cared so much about them."

The majority of the people in Rawah don't want to hurt Marines, said Quinlan. In fact, it seems as though the vast majority of the population are good people who want to live a calm, normal life, he said.

"It's all about random acts of kindness," Quinlan reiterated to his Marines after the patrol. "It's not all about fighting the insurgents; we need to show the people that we care."

War has many faces. It can be cruel, cruel beyond reckoning. It can destroy the soul and shatter the mind. But it can uplift the spirit and challenge a man to find things within himself he never knew were there: honor, compassion, kindness, the strength to go on past all human endurance. To overcome hate and weariness and the awful numbness that comes with seeing more horror than any of us, safe in our suburban homes, will ever know. Why don't we see more of this side of the war from the mainstream media?

Perhaps its time to speak a little truth to the powerless: the American people. Operation Iraqi Freedom is in its last moments, and if we mean to really support our troops we need an offensive on the home front.

We need to demand a counteroffensive. Operation Iraqi Truth.

The whole truth. It's not too much to ask. Because a democracy can only stand if its people make informed decisions. And we've been operating in a shadow world of half-truths and delusions for far too long. We've seen a constant parade of darkness and death since 2003. It's time to let a little sunshine in.

Come on. What are you so afraid of?

Posted by Cassandra at 08:37 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

March 07, 2007

An Odd Notion Of Justice

Well, the verdict is in and the party that didn't think perjury was a serious offense is nearly beside itself with joy at the result:

Mr. Libby was found guilty on four of five counts against him: obstruction of justice for "knowingly and corruptly" trying to impede a grand jury investigation of how he acquired and disclosed information to reporters about the identity of a CIA operative; making false statements along those lines to the FBI; perjuring himself by lying under oath before the grand jury about one conversation with a reporter; and a second perjury count related to conversations with other reporters. He was acquitted on the charge of making a false statement to the FBI about his talks with one of those reporters. The facts of the case are well known, among them that Mr. Libby was prosecuted for lying about his use of the undercover operative's identity, not for the federal crime of leaking the name -- a leak first made by others and a crime that apparently didn't take place.

Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, plucked from his job in Chicago in late 2003 to avoid perceived conflicts of interest at the Justice Department, reiterated yesterday that "any lie under oath" is a serious threat to the judicial system, and "having someone, a high-level official do that under oath in a national security investigation is something that can never be acceptable."

Ah. At last the mystery of why Scooter Libby was alone in the dock is solved. Apparently, according to Patrick Fitzgerald, though "any lie under oath is a serious threat to the judicial system", lies by media figures are to be swept under the rug via Justice Department deal making.

It's just as well to get that out into the open.

It has long been apparent we live in a two-tiered justice system where media figures exempt themselves from the same laws ordinary citizens are bound by, often with the tacit aid of judges and government officials. One doesn't, however, expect to hear it stated quite so baldly. In a trial that hinged on the critical question of whether Libby lied or simply had trouble remembering details of events which happened long ago, he was hardly alone in demonstrating either reluctance to "play ball" with the investigation or to give straightforward answers to questions asked of him:

The searing spotlight on how reporters do their jobs was less than flattering. Miller said she lost one of her notebooks and couldn't remember the names of the other sources she said had told her about Plame. Former Time correspondent Matt Cooper, who wrote a piece questioning whether the administration had "declared war" on Wilson, had trouble deciphering his own notes. Bob Woodward, the Washington Post editor and author, apologized to his boss for failing to disclose for more than two years that former deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage had told him about Plame.

Russert was pressed on why he was willing to tell an FBI agent about his conversation with Libby but balked at a prosecutor's subpoena. And syndicated columnist Robert Novak, the man who outed Plame, refused to say for three years whether he had even testified in the case, before it emerged that he had talked to Fitzgerald.

"We all saw how sloppy reporters can be in their note-taking," says Jeralyn Merritt, an attorney and blogger who covered the trial for her Web site TalkLeft. "When you hear them say, 'I don't recall, I don't recall' when asked about their notes for an article, you wonder about their accuracy."

There was considerable sympathy for Miller when she went to jail for 85 days. But when Miller, like other journalists in the case, later testified under a waiver of confidentiality granted by Libby, many analysts wondered just what the First Amendment battle had been about.

But neither the jury nor the American public is likely to learn the answer to that question. After arguing that Miller's testimony was "critical" to his case, Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald suddenly made a deal with Miller, allowing her to avoid testifying about her other source and go free after openly defying his authority. Apparently Ms. Miller's continuing refusal to cooperate with the investigation was not a serious threat to the judicial system.

Neither, apparently, is Richard Armitage's two-year refusal to come forward with what he knew to be punished. He, of course, is a senior government official. But no matter. As Clarice Feldman, a Washington DC attorney, notes; the jury could only work with the facts presented to it. And those facts were carefully selected:

...at whose door do I stand to shout my curses?

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell and his Deputy Dick Armitage, who knew Armitage leaked and hid from the President and public that fact, letting Libby and the entire White House staff be put through the wringer?

The FBI which poorly investigated the matter, jiggered the notes of the interrogations and somehow lost the key inculpatory notes?

Fitzgerald, who set it upon himself to find any process violation he could find, and who tricked an unsuspecting Libby, who knew he'd not leaked Plame's name to anyone into repeated FBI and grand jury interrogations in the hope of finding any memory inconsistency, no matter how immaterial or insignificant on which to hang his hat?

Shall I curse the right side of the aisle which never likes to get its skirts dusty in the forum, even if their enemies are armed to the teeth and eviscerating their allies right before their noses? You know who I mean.

Charge a Clintonite with wrongdoing and the entire Department of Justice sits on the news until his friends have worked out an appropriate spin and a time to leak it when it will do him the least harm. Consider the merest possibility that someone in the Administration might have done something wrong and Andrea Mitchell has the news of the investigation on the air in an hour and his allies flee in fright that they might get their garments dirty by speaking in his defense.

Shall I blame the judge who let the prosecution get away with introducing into evidence prejudicial news accounts of limited relevance or probative value while denying the defense an opportunity to fully make its case? Who allowed the prosecutor to make scandalous charges in his rebuttal -- the last thing the jury would hear -- with no evidence on the record for them?

Shall I blame the jury which seems to have been unable to find the pony so it reconstructed it out of flip charts and post it notes?

This entire process has been an outrage from beginning to end.

The burden of proof in a criminal matter is "beyond a reasonable doubt". Given the sheer weight of conflicting testimony in this case, there seems to be considerable doubt about whether anyone recalls the events of that long-ago summer with any accuracy. Several things do seem crystal clear: a special prosecutor charged with investigating a violation of the IIPA never bothered to establish that Valerie Plame was, in fact, a covert agent for the purposes of the statute.

It became apparent very late in the investigation he knew all along that Valerie Plame's identity was an open secret among the journalistic community, and furthermore that Scooter Libby was not the person who leaked her identity.

This was a non-investigation of a non-crime. And now a man is going to jail for inconsistent testimony about a matter, about which it appears several others have also given inconsistent testimony. He may have lied. He may have obstructed justice. Or he may not have. But if he did so, two other things are also crystal clear:

1. Several other witnesses refused to cooperate fully with this investigation, citing a 'journalistic privilege' which no court in this land upholds. Richard Armitage and Bob Woodward did not come forward at all for two years.

2. Inconsistencies in the testimony of other witnesses have not resulted in perjury charges. Why are their 'memory lapses' excused?

The answer is a troubling one, but it was hinted at by several jurors interviewed by the media. They felt the need for an administration scalp even if, as one troubled juror admitted, they felt Libby was "the wrong man".

The truth is that Scooter Libby was not convicted yesterday.

He was tried and convicted months ago on the front pages of America's newspapers. But this should not surprise us, coming from a community which cannot tell the difference between a bogus war hero who spent four months in Vietnam before returning to smear his comrades with the foulest of lies and the genuine article. These are the same folks who made "Swift Boating" synonymous with smear tactics.

And so it should be, but not for the reason they think.

But who needs truth when you have Truthiness? Who needs America's most highly decorated living veteran when you have a telegenic "war hero" with three (count 'em - three!) Purple Hearts?

It is always safe to smear the real thing if you have control of the megaphone. And that is what the press count on: that you won't check up on them. That they can drown out the facts with cries of "Swift boating":

What was your first exposure to Kerry's 1971 testimony?

DAY: At the time I was a POW, but I didn't connect it up with him, because there were a lot of loonies out there protesting the war. I had just heard that a Naval officer was badmouthing our performance and basically saying we ought to get out of Vietnam and the war was wrong and so forth. I wasn't aware that it was him until well after I was back from Vietnam.

Did it surprise you to hear of an officer's giving such testimony?

DAY: It astonished me, because basically it was a breach of faith with those people he had served with. It was absolutely untrue that we were committing atrocities there. It was absolutely untrue that we were raping women and murdering children and doing all those kinds of things. And either he knew that was untrue, or he should have known just from his own experiences . . . Later, I found out that he had made these two visits to meet with Le Duc Tho in Paris, and push the enemy's seven-point piece plan--which amounted to us tendering some kind of ransom for the POWs, and under that condition we would come home, and then we would apologize for ever having been in the war. It told me that he really was a man of Benedict Arnold qualities, because that's what Benedict Arnold did. He fought for the country and then crossed over to the British…

Did it undermine your morale to hear that a fellow officer of the U.S. military was essentially parroting what your captors were telling you and torturing you to get you to say?

DAY: Yes. And I have to be straightforward. I did not know who this Naval officer was, and I didn't know exactly what it was he was supposed to be saying. I just heard this story that a Naval officer was basically saying the same stuff that Jane Fonda was saying. Now, of course, in 1972, she was over there posing on gun sights, as were several other anti-war people who wanted the Communists to win. And so to be frank with you, in my mind in jail at that time, I just suspected that it was some sort of hanger-on with Jane Fonda. I just assumed that it was some Naval officer that had kind of gone around the bend, and I certainly never connected it up with him specifically. I had no clue who John Kerry was. I was skeptical of that story, and I thought it might just be some more propaganda from the Vietnamese

Had John Kerry's plan to unilaterally withdraw from Vietnam been put into effect, would your life, as a POW, have been in greater or less danger, and would there have been a greater or a lesser chance of your going home?

DAY: It would have been in far greater danger. They always called me a war criminal, they threatened several times to shoot me after the war. Frankly, I didn't go to sleep every night sick with worry because in my gut I knew that our government was going to bomb them out, and we were going to get out under different conditions. But had the surrender occurred, it would have been a totally different thing, because then those people would have been totally able to do anything they wanted to do with us. They could have turned us loose, they could have not turned us loose, they could have shot us, they could have put us on trial. They could have done anything they wanted to. And not only that, but there would have been a blood bath of the South Vietnamese that would have been in the hundreds of thousands, that would have died and been tortured. . . .

On "Meet the Press," Tim Russert brought up Kerry's 1971 testimony. Kerry said that some of the language he used might have been inappropriate, spoken as an angry young man. Does that cut it for you as an apology?

DAY: It wasn't even in the ballpark. It was no apology--it wasn't even an explanation. He dodged the question, is what happened. . . . He blackened every Vietnam veteran's name when he came back and told all of those terrible stories about what we were supposedly doing. And he is just one of the reasons that the myth exists about all of the crazy, nutty, dope-addicted, booze-addicted failures that came out of Vietnam because of that awful war. Col. Bui Tin of the North Vietnamese government said words to this effect: that every day, the North Vietnamese listened to the radio to see what was happening back here in the United States. And what they heard from Kerry was exactly the kind of propaganda that they wanted to hear, because their claim was they were going to win this war on the streets of San Francisco and New York City. And it was clear that John Kerry was helping them do that. That was also part of the Soviet Union's disinformation program, which was saying exactly the same thing that John Kerry was saying… He basically functioned as a propaganda minister for both the Russians and the North Vietnamese. He basically was advocating that the Communists win.

But don't listen to Bud Day. According to Rosa Brooks, he's part of the 'unprincipled lunatic fringe'. Just like Scooter Libby, who according to the evidence didn't actually leak Val Plame's name to Bob Novak (it appears to have been the deeply anti-Bush Dick Armitage). Now, Libby is "paying" for the crimes of the White House. If your head is exploding, you've got plenty of company.

But hey -- justice has been served. Spin, spin, spin.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:18 AM | Comments (87) | TrackBack

March 04, 2007

Hope Breaks Out In Iraq, Part II

Yesterday, the editorial staff rudely pointed out that hope (like that annoying bluebird of happiness which flies right up your nose when you least expect it) seems to be breaking out in Iraq. Today we continue to rain on John Murtha's 'redeployment' parade. Three separate sources in this morning's reading seemed to reinforce the same message. There are early indications that even before all the "surge" troops are in place, the new tactics are taking effect. This is seen in three ways: violence is down, intelligence tips and recruiting for the IA/IP are up, and most importantly - and this is crucial - when terrorist attacks do occur, they are no longer quite so successful in inciting sectarian reprisals. It is quite possible that just as a string of small setbacks can easily demoralize and bog down an army, so a series of small victories establish a momentum that compounds like interest in the bank, acting as a force multiplier. Ralph Peters reports:

Of the five additional U.S. brigades headed for Baghdad, only one is in place, with the second starting to arrive. Yet the city is already quieter and safer. The terrorists continue to detonate their bombs - with suicidal fanatics targeting the innocent - but sectarian killings (death-squad hits) have dropped from over 50 each night down to single digits.

* The tactic of stationing U.S. units and their Iraqi counterparts down in the Baghdad 'hoods is already paying off. (It should have been used from the outset - instead of hunkering down on massive bases. But better late than never.) The effort has triggered a flood of intelligence tips: When citizens feel safe, they cooperate. And when they help us, our success compounds.

* We hear the bad news from the rest of Iraq, such as this week's monstrous car bombing of children at play on a soccer field in Ramadi, but we don't hear that such attacks by al Qaeda operatives have infuriated mainstream Sunni sheiks and their tribes - who increasingly make common cause with us and their government. And winning over the Sunni "middle" is crucial to Iraq's future.

* We'll never stop all suicide bombers and car bombers, but our security crackdown has already taken out two major Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED) factories. And we took down a huge arms cache late last week.

Via McQ, Bing West's Iraq report gives a broader picture:

In Anbar about 60% of the tribes are tilting toward the Marines and fighting the al-Qaeda types. Police ranks are swelling with tribal members. Anbar is improving, but how the Sunni tribes will work with the Iraqi Army, let alone the central government, is moot.

Prognosis for the next six months: Progress but no breakthroughs. The central government has to woo the sheiks and offer terms, figure out how police chiefs and Iraqi army commanders share power in the cities, and crack down on the insurgents captured in Anbar (put them away for life). Jails in Anbar are filling up, and the central government is not stepping up.

In Baghdad, as the Shiite ethnic cleansing advances, the front lines are easily marked by the blocks of abandoned houses. Checking the cleansing can be done by military means – barriers, patrols and the like. The Americans are likely to stop this and turn around the trend.

West nails what he calls the Achilles heel of the coalition plan:


Also in Baghdad, the Sunni extremists strike with suicidal murderers and car bombs. It is unlikely, given a million cars, that a technique will be developed to curtail this inside six months. In most countries, bombers are stopped by effective policing and spy networks, and Iraq is years away from that. This is the Achilles Heel. No matter the progress on other fronts, the persistence of gore and Shiite mass deaths is likely to continue to fuel hatred.

What, then, is the biggest problem? How the Americans can infuse into the Iraqi army and police in Baghdad a sense of mission and even-handedness such that the Americans can withdraw from neighborhoods in eight to twelve months without backsliding.

Existing American military tactics and techniques are adequate to staunch the ethnic cleansing; to transfer those conops or to design substitute techniques that the Iraqi army and police can use – and to meld the army and police into a unity of effort – is a far more problematic task. On the other hand, I’ve seen enough examples of tough Iraqi leadership at the battalion and police chief level to believe that some leadership is emerging. Right now, though, the glue is the presence of the American troops. They have to be out on the streets first, then the Iraqi forces fall in behind them.

The places in Baghdad where I saw clean streets, open shops, and guards on every corner were the Shiite areas. It’s too early to tell whether we’re dealing with a rope-a-dope feint by the Shiite politicians. It is in their short-term interests for them to help us purge bad elements, and restore order and services. But whether they believe a compromise with the Sunnis is possible or necessary – who knows?

All in all, an assessment I can live with. West also has an excellent analysis of how police tactics should be brought to bear in Iraq as we transition from American to Iraqi control. Since my son is a police officer I found this particularly interesting, and I think it's spot on since I believe where the wheels are likely to fall off during the transition is the deplorable state of the Iraqi justice system. McQ comments:

Improving metrics for a police war. In essence, Iraq is now a police war. Yet our briefings, our metrics and our frame of reference – how we organize, analyze and solve problems – are military. Our basic tool to combat this insurgency and sectarian war is the patrol, too often mounted. In contrast, a police station – the equivalent of our Combat Outpost – is divided into patrolmen and detectives (of which we are woefully short because we have not thought in those terms.)

It would be interesting to invite a few senior cops from the States to visit, say, Ramadi and three districts in Baghdad. Then ask them to present how they would organize their daily brief – what metrics they would demand from their police subordinates and what conops they would put in place.

He has a point. Somewhere along the line this must transition into a police action vs. a military action. How and when does that transition take place and what are the metrics and frame of reference for that kind of action? I like his final paragraph. It's a good idea and would help in the development of those metrics and that frame of reference, allowing the transition to be planned and executed efficiently.

I agree, largely because of West's final comment:

Trust will decide this war. We know the essence of the problem: Whether the Iraqi central government and security forces are led by deceivers who tell us they believe in a stable federation with power-sharing, while they abet sectarian division. In my most recent visit, there was the pervasive, open acknowledgement by the police, IA and the residents that they trusted the Americans, but not each other.

For democracy and the rule of law to survive, there must be trust, not just in the fairness of the laws, but that that will be enforced fairly. Right now that is the missing piece in Iraq, and good policing is the first step to establishing that trust.

As to the political commitment, it's anyone's guess, but even here the early indications are heartening. Haider Ajina translates a news article from Iraq’s ‘Alsabah Aljadeed or New Sabah’ of Feb 26 2007:

Al-Maliki said, ‘Baghdad security plan will spread to other provinces as soon as it is successful in calming Baghdad. I am very optimistic about this plan, because of the support and cooperation between civilians and the security forces. There will be no peace for all the outlaws and all must know there will not be a country or security unless Laws rule. The government alone has the responsibility for the security of its citizen’s and national security’. He added, ‘the country will pursue all outlaws regardless of their affiliation. There will be no leniency for any outlaw and all security procedures will be implemented with out hesitation and completely devoid of political influence.

The PM pointed out the positive outcomes of the operation over the last few days. Dismantling a number of terrorist cells, the foiling of many plots to kill civilians and the return of hundreds of families to their original homes. The country will provide returning families with security as well as financial rewards for damages. I promise that security officers will stay until security is achieved.

His father tells of the changes he has seen already:

I spoke to my father in Baghdad, he said that the street is very impressed by the operation and receiving much cooperation from the people. They have done in four days what we thought would take them over a month. Shiites love the Americans and want them stay to help the Iraqi security stand on its feet he said. He also told me the street knows that Iran is no great friend of Iraq. Reading the PM, Al-Maliki, order the soldiers to respect the rights of the individual is still amazing to me. What large difference from just four short years ago. I am not worried about my family from the security forces; I am only worried about them from the terrorist. Before we liberated Iraq the security force were who worried me. This is the same sentiment my family has in Baghdad and Nejef. They now trust and look to the security forces for help. What a turn around, and all squarely due to our training of these new Iraqis and the Iraqi’s willingness to learn and serve. There have been problems with some of the security personnel and most of those are being and have been addressed, as is evident from the PM’s directive of nondiscrimination and no favoritism. The support of the average citizen in Baghdad for this operation is nothing short of remarkable. Of course, this only comes if the citizens feel safe tipping off the Iraqi security forces. This also shows that the terrorists are loosing much of their support base in Iraq.

Omar, too, is hopeful:

As we noted in earlier reports, we feel safer about moving around in the city now than we did a month before. I have recently been to districts in Baghdad where a month or two ago I wouldn’t have thought of going to. In the last week or two I’ve showed my ID to soldiers and policemen in checkpoints dozens of times. A few months ago this was considered an extremely risky thing to do — especially for someone whose ID shows a name and profession such as mine. “Omar” is a pure Sunni name and everyone here knows that scores of young Baghdadi men were killed by death squads just because they had the name.

...While many Iraqi families are returning to the homes they once were forced to leave, there are also Baghdadis who are reopening their stores, ending the months they spent out of business because of violence and intimidation. Some streets that were virtually deserted a few months ago are slowly showing signs of returning to life.
The reopening stores even include some liquor shops! There are two stores on one street that I used to shop that closed early last year when their owners received death threats from the insurgents and the militias. Yesterday I walked through that street and, to my amazement, I found both stores open and back in business.

Of course the reopening of two liquor stores is no big deal by itself when we are talking about a city where thousands of businesses are still shuttered. I regard this as a further positive sign of a change in Baghdad’s daily life. It means that those shopkeepers are leaving their fear behind, and openly ignoring the threats of militias and insurgents who once ruled the streets and intimidated the people with threats and violence.

The results of Operation “Imposing Law” are not magical. We didn’t expect them to be magical. The commanders didn’t claim they’d be when the Operation began. Still these latest developments are certainly promising. And let’s not forget that what has been achieved so far was achieved while many thousands of the new troops assigned to Baghdad are yet to arrive.

It has been such a long time coming, but somehow I can't help but find it funny that the breaking of the logjam is signalled by - among other things - the appearance of... liquor! My mind flashes back to another Spring, back in 2003, and the liberation of Najaf:

In the giddy spirit of the day, nothing could quite top the wish list bellowed out by one man in the throng of people greeting American troops from the 101st Airborne Division who marched into town today.

What, the man was asked, did he hope to see now that the Baath Party had been driven from power in his town? What would the Americans bring?

"Democracy," the man said, his voice rising to lift each word to greater prominence. "Whiskey. And sexy!"

Around him, the crowd roared its approval.

And so everything old is new again. Democracy. Whisky. Sexy. Well, we gave them the chance to build a democracy: Iraq has a Constitution, and elections, and a parliament, though she still has a long way to go before those institutions gain legitimacy in the eyes of the people. But that is the nature of democracies and the Iraqis are going to have to fight both their own history and each other to make Iraq both a just and a humane country.

It appears the whiskey has shown up.

We're working on the sexy.

After such a long winter, we are ready to feel the warmth of the sun once again on our faces. Would it not be a wondrous blessing to be able to resurrect three more old words and rejoice in the sound of them?

Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Posted by Cassandra at 12:04 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

February 23, 2007

The Heartrending Kaleidoscope of War

How many times has it happened to you? You sit at your computer and suddenly, in your Inbox appears one of those slideshows, set to music. The war, in moving pictures.

Moving, in more ways than one. For more often than not before that moving slideshow is over, you find yourself in tears again. The old familiar stinging sensation starting up behind your eyeballs, and then the hot liquid coursing down your cheeks. And there is really nothing you can do anymore because the response has become automatic now. Three years of war have left you like one of Pavlov's dogs: the mere sight of one of those prize-winning photos is enough to induce a predictable sensation.

And so, more often than not, you close the file hurriedly and open a spreadsheet, or grab your calculator. Because you can't afford to get choked up during working hours. Not again.

I often wonder how the war will seem, in retrospect. Once it is over, should that blessed day ever arrive, how will it come back to us in memory? I often think it will seem much like one of those slideshows; that we won't recall entire episodes, but only snapshots frozen in time. Will our memories be distorted, selective? They can't help but be, I fear. That is partly why I get up and write every morning. In our imperfect way, we are grappling to understand history before it is finished. It is only that some of us want to declare the victor before the final quarter has ended:


"Are you on the road, or in the ditch?'' Back when I covered labor negotiations 30 years ago, that was the question reporters would ask to get a sense of how contract talks were going. The phrase came back to me last weekend as I listened to a series of relentlessly negative presentations at a conference here on America's relations with the Muslim world.

We are in the ditch in the Middle East. As bad as you think it is watching TV, it's worse. It's not just Iraq, but the whole pattern of America's dealings with the Arab world. People aren't just angry at America -- they've been that way to varying degrees since I first came here 27 years ago. What's worse is that they're giving up on us -- on our ability to make good decisions, to solve problems, to play the role of honest broker.

My, my. How on earth could anyone get the impression America lacks the ability to prevail, or the good will to be an 'honest broker'? Could it be articles like this, Mr. Ignatius' offering from last week, optimistically titled: Expect the worst in Iraq:

Somehow, four years on, the debate about Iraq is still animated by wishful thinking. The White House talks as if a surge of 20,000 troops is going to stop a civil war. Democrats argue that when America withdraws its troops, Iraqis will finally take responsibility for their own security. But we all need to face the likelihood that this story isn't going to have a happy ending.

Oddly, the thought that relentlessly broadcasting our inability to win the war doesn't exactly encourage fearful Iraqis trying to decide whether to back militias or support an illogical foreign nation that can't achieve consensus, keep intelligence information secret, or fulfill serious foreign policy commitments never seems to occur to really smart men like David Ignatius. But this is completely understandable. They're too busy telling the world how short-sighted the administration is.

This is a rare talent. Almost as rare as the ability to archly inform world leaders what they should have done, in hindsight, once all the pressure is off and you have the advantage of knowing how everthing played out:


Tim Russert: “John, was it possible for our policy makers to truly understand the way Iraqis would have reacted? The judgments made here were that when we went in we would be greeted as quote, ‘liberators,’ to quote Dick, Vice President’s Cheney's phrase, that they were prepared, in effect, to take governing into their own hands, that they were so upset and had been so downtrodden by Saddam Hussein that they would embrace democracy and rise up, almost immediately.”

John Burns, New York Times: “Well first of all, I think, again, to be fair, the American troops were greeted as liberators. We saw it. It lasted very briefly, it was exhausted quickly by the looting and the astonishment and puzzlement and finally anger of Iraqis that nothing, or very little was done to stop that. I think that to be fair to the United States, when I speak as a citizen of the United Kingdom, I think that the instincts that led to much that went wrong were good American instincts: the desire not to have too heavy of a footprint, the desire to empower Iraqis.

“But, and I think that the policy makers in Washington, and to be on honest with you the journalists also, to speak for myself, completely miscalculated the impact of 30 years of violent, brutal repression on the Iraqi people and their willingness, in President Bush's phrase, ' to stand up' for themselves, to take authority, to take risks. Why did we who, people like Rajiv [fellow guest Rajiv Chandrasekaran of the Washington Post] and myself who were there under Saddam, why did we not fully understand that? I think it's because we were extremely limited by the Saddam's regime as to where we could go and where we could go and speak to and what we wrote about mostly -- certainly I can speak for myself -- was what was most palpable and accessible to us which was the terror, it was real.

“To that extent, I suppose you'd have to say people like myself enabled what happened, the decisions made here to go into Iraq and I'm not going to apologize for that. I've been to, I think many of the world's nastiest places in a 30 year career as a foreign correspondent for the New York Times and Iraq was, by a long way saving only North Korea, the nastiest place I've ever been. It was a truly terrible place and what I think we were transfixed by was the notion that if you could remove this of carapace of terror and you could liberate the Iraqi people, many good things would happen. We just didn't understand, and perhaps didn't work hard enough to understand, what lay beneath this carapace which is a deeply fractured society that had always been held together, since the British constructed it, by drawing geometric lines on the map -- Winston Churchill and Lawrence of Arabia in the 1920s -- a country that had really always been held together by force and varying degrees repression. The King, King Faisal, is remembered, the King who was assassinated in 1958, as a kind of golden era, but even that is really, was not really a parliamentary democracy. It was still basically an autocratic state and I think we needed to understand better the forces that we were going to liberate.

“And my guess is that history will say that the forces that we liberated by invading Iraq were so powerful and so uncontrollable that virtually nothing the United States might have done, except to impose its own repressive state with half a million troops, which might have had to last ten years or more, nothing we could have done would have effectively prevented this disintegration that is now occurring.”

And we all know that would have been much better, don't we? The conventional wisdom of the day, back then, was that the Arab street would rise up in anger against the removal of Saddam and there would be massive casualties.

None of that happened.

Because we did not go in as heavy handed conquerors, the "Arab street" saw that we did not intend to oppress Iraq and impose imperial rule. They saw that we were serious about letting the Iraqis control their own future. The peril we could not avert was that decades of brutality had numbed the Iraqis and made them more passive than we expected. And so one danger was averted and another danger we did not foresee - that a proxy war would arise and malicious third parties would leverage deep divisions both in Iraq and back here in America - took its place.

For back at home, the fighting was no less bitter:

An American Congress has got itself into a war it can’t win. It is stuck. Can’t move forward, can’t move back. And Congress is starting to take casualties. It doesn’t know which way to turn. It’s a quagmire.

The situation is dire, and congressmen everywhere are increasingly beleaguered. They have been unable to come up with any strategy for success, but more seriously, they haven’t been able to agree on a strategy for failure. One of their leading lights, Rep. John Murtha, has already been reduced to an object of derision and the danger is he will drag more of them down with him.

Congress spent four days … four days! … yammering earnestly, and then cast a strong, uncompromising, forceful non-binding resolution with a self-negating caveat. The president of the United States, in reaction to this devastating congressional shock-and-awe campaign, said, “Thank you, that was interesting.”

...recent polls have found support for Bush’s troop surge surging, and while opposition to the war is high, so is opposition to:

(a) surrender,
(b) losing,
(c) defeat and
(d) compelling the troops do do any of the same.

This poses a frightful dilemma for Dem Cong strategists. How to surrender without giving up? How to compel defeat without being seen to cause us to lose?

It is becoming increasingly clear that this war cannot be lost politically. It will have to be lost militarily.

And meanwhile, in the midst of hyperbolic press coverage about a lying ex-ambassador who went to Africa so he could spill the beans about what he didn't find there and a sensational trial, ostensibly about a White House aide involved in exposing the identity of a "covert" CIA operative so deeply buried that half the Washington press corps already knew her name, the LA Times openly brags about "outing" three ACTUAL CIA operatives who are covert.

So much for journalistic ethics. But we're supposed to "trust" the media when they report on the war, despite the fact that Jamil Hussein does not exist. Details.

The battle for Baghdad has begun. Richard S. Lowry reports:

The battle for Baghdad has been enjoined. The Iraqi Army is in the process of moving three additional Brigades into the city for Operation Fard al-Qanun. “These Iraqi forces are deploying throughout the city and working also in the joint security stations, where they're living and patrolling jointly with Iraqi police and with coalition forces.” This battle will have a very small military component, as this will be an operation to bring peace and prosperity to the neighborhoods of this war-torn city. The Iraqi ministry of Finance is already planning to provide vital services to the people and there are even plans to open local bank branches.


Within the last week, the 82nd Airborne’s historic 325th Parachute Infantry Regiment has started “cordon and search” operations on the streets of Baghdad. They have taken up residence at Combat Outpost Callahan, inside the city. They have begun to reach out to local leaders to establish relationships and to learn the community’s needs. They are telling all that will listen that they are there to stay. On one of Thursday’s foot patrols SPC Michael Benusa, one of the regiment’s medics, returned to visit civilians that he had treated on his first patrol. He checked in on a family with a teenage daughter who was suffering from eczema and an elderly man who was trying to recover from a recent stroke.
Beneusa provided topical medicine to the teenage girl and gave the elderly man’s family instructions on how to help him regain some mobility in the limbs affected.

In their first week of Fard al-Qanun, there has been a significant reduction in sectarian incidents and in extrajudicial killings in Baghdad because the Iraqi people have chose restraint rather than retribution. However, while this is in fact very encouraging, we cannot stress strongly enough that it would be premature to declare Fard al-Qanun a success. Success will require a sustained effort and a comprehensive approach that complements progress and security with political, economic, legal and social initiatives. The effects of the operation will not be seen in days or weeks, but over the course of months.

If General Petraeus’s plan runs smoothly, there will be very little for the traditional media to report. I will continue to monitor the “real” news and provide it to this blog.

From inside Baghdad, the news is encouraging, if early:

Apache1.jpg

The sky of Baghdad is a story by itself—the city is being watched from above at several levels; from helicopters flying just above rooftops to various types of surveillance drones -which Baghdadis collectively refer to as “the fly” because of the buzzing sound- that remain in the air for hours, to another type of surveillance aircrafts that fly silently at higher altitudes and I suspect are also unmanned.
Above those flies an assortment of fighter jets, and sometimes heavy bombers.
All in all it’d be true to say that the sky is full of eyes and guns.

Although attacks happen here and there, the general feeling is still closer to hope and appreciation of the plan than pessimism. More families are returning to the homes they were once forced to leave, and we’re talking about some of the most dangerous districts such as Ghazaliya and Haifa Street.
Al-Sabah reports that yesterday alone 327 families returned home and that the scene of vans loaded with furniture of refugees leaving Baghdad is no more. There were times when the average was around 20 a day. The 327 figure brought the total to more than 500 families across Baghdad.

Al-Hurra TV aired a report on the story and interviewed some of the returning Baghdadis, one man said “those who returned earlier and saw the change in the situation called us and encouraged us to return, and I too will encourage the rest to come back”. The report showed those families asking the army to stay and not abandon their neighborhood, and showed the officer in charge giving his number to the locals so that they can contact him directly in case of emergency.

Looking at the relative increase in the number of attacks and their geographic extent one can expect the coming days to bring more escalation, but with the amount of power available for US and Iraqi troops I think the bad guys will not be able to achieve much.

The war has been a pastiche of heartbreak and hope, of tears and embraces. Whom do you believe? David Ignatius at his keyboard, or Mohammed in Baghdad? Jack Murtha, or David Petraeus?

Your choice. Hope, or despair. Prevarification, or Purpose?

Choose.

Posted by Cassandra at 12:33 PM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

February 15, 2007

Resolved To Win

In his essay earlier today, Richard derides U.S. faithlessness towards our allies:

In our recent history we have abandoned the Kurds, Shiites and Afghanis, not to mention our shameless withdrawal of support of the Mountainyards and our friends and allies in Saigon. Lord help the Somalis that befriended America in the 90s, for we deserted them, too. The World knows that we will turn tail and walk away from what was a noble cause in Iraq because the American people are weak and are so self-centered that we withdraw when the situation gets complicated.

But many opponents of the war rightly wonder why we should continue to expend American lives and treasure to free a people half a world away? Why Iraq and Afghanistan and not Darfur? And some ask, what duty do we owe any nation, that we should shed the blood of our sons and daughters on foreign soil?

There are several answers to that question. None of them are simple.

First of all, we have already made promises, and from our performance of those promises the world will assess the credibility of American diplomacy, the strength of our commitment to our allies and to those ideals we swore to bring to Iraq (democracy and the rule of law). Second, al Qaeda has openly announced their desire to establish a beach head in an Islamic state. This is no secret. And they, also, are there now, whatever the arguments about what has gone before. They have no plans to leave and they show no uncertainty as to their goals, whatever we may decide to do.

But above all else, what is at stake is the world's perception of the strength and viability of American military force; of both our ability to project power on a global scale and to maintain it long enough to achieve our stated objectives. With our ignominious retreats from Vietnam and Somalia, both were badly damaged. A failure to carry out our objectives in Iraq would complete the trifecta of miserable failure, quagmire-like defeatism, and American anomie from which we seem unable to free ourselves.

It is an inescapable fact of life that even the best of laws possess no vital power if they are unenforceable: we are currently seeing proof of that in a small area of Baghdad where, despite the fact that the new government of Iraq has successfully elected a representative government, unjust enforcement of Iraq's laws has created a profoundly uncertain atmosphere for its citizens.

In an increasingly volatile and borderless world filled with weapons of mass destruction, the democratic nations have irrationally chosen to dismantle rather than strengthen their standing armies. This makes it more vital than ever that the United States be seen as both willing and capable of backing up its policy stances both at home and abroad. The alternative, in an atmosphere where radical Islamist societies are outbreeding the West and migrating their aggressively intolerant ideology to our shores, is abandonment of the rule of law to those who respect neither human rights nor freedom.

The recent Danish cartoon controversy was a vivid reminder that, as Wafa Sultan has so eloquently told us, this is not a confrontation the West can hide from. We are engaged in a violent cataclysm between the modern and the barbaric world: one that must be resolved if we hope to bequeathe our beloved freedoms to future generations.

But if we mean to win in Iraq and Afghanistan, we must be resolved upon victory. There can be no more hesitation, no more "debate", no "non-binding" resolutions to slowly starve our troops of much-needed funds, manpower, and equipment as they stand in the line of fire because our so-called leaders, "chicken doves", need them to bravely soldier on just long enough to get the DNC elected in 2008. There is only one honest course of action left for those who oppose this war: openly vote to cut off all funding NOW. Though I think this course horribly misguided, any other course, as McQ observes, needlessly imperils our men and women in uniform; it is playing a game of "chicken" with the lives of our troops and it is wrong.

How long will it be, I wonder, before the true sentiments of many who say they support the troops begin to surface? Was William Arkin's 'obscene amenities' crack a few weeks ago the first harbinger of an emerging backlash against the military? John Kerry has, over the years, said several times he wishes he could abolish the armed forces. Kerry has accused our troops of terrorizing Iraqi women and children, and he is hardly alone in that sentiment. It pervades academia and the legal community, which openly brags of its pro bono work defending Gitmo detainees (everyone, even the most reprehensible person, after all, deserves a quality defense from America's best and brightest legal minds). Just don't look to see any of these high-priced firms representing accused servicemembers caught in the mare's nest of changing Rules of Engagement. After all, they have their principles:

... this was what the future of teaching about justice would include: teaching war criminals who sit glaring at me with hatred for daring to speak the truth of their atrocities and who, if paid to, would disappear, torture and kill me. I wondered that night how long I really have in this so called “free” country to teach my students and to be with my children and grandchildren.

The American military and mercenary soldiers who “sacrificed” their lives did not do so for the teacher’s freedom to teach the truth about the so-called war on terror, or any of US history for that matter. They sacrificed their lives, limbs and sanity for money, some education and the thrills of the violence for which they are socially bred. Sacrificing for the “bling and booty” in Iraq or Afghanistan, Philippines, Grenada, Central America, Mexico, Somalia, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, or any of the other numerous wars and invasions spanning US history as an entity and beginning with their foundational practice of killing the Indians and stealing their land.

How can America hope to win wars with a Congress that openly seeks to undermine our armed forces? How can we win when our major newspapers are so ignorant they openly chide the President of the United States for not disclosing everything we know to our worst enemies:

Before things get any more out of hand, President Bush needs to make his intentions toward Iran clear. And Congress needs to make it clear that this time it will be neither tricked nor bullied into supporting another disastrous war.

How little this administration has learned from its failures is a constant source of amazement. It seems the bigger the failure, the less it learns.

Consider last weekend’s supersecret briefing in Baghdad by a group of American military officials whose names could not be revealed to the voters who are paying for this war with their taxes and their children’s blood. The briefers tried to prove the White House’s case that Iran is shipping deadly weapons, including armor-piercing explosives, to Shiite militias in Iraq.

Unlike Colin Powell’s infamous prewar presentation on Iraq at the United Nations, this briefing had actual weapons to look at. And perhaps in time, the administration will be able to prove conclusively that the weapons came from arms factories in Iran.

But the officials offered no evidence to support their charge that “the highest levels of the Iranian government” had authorized smuggling these weapons into Iraq for use against American forces. Nor could they adequately explain why they had been sitting on this urgent evidence since 2004. The only thing that was not surprising was the refusal of any of the briefers to allow their names to be published.

As TigerHawk notes, only a complete moron shows all his cards to his opponent. That is, unless he intends to lose. On the other hand, this undoubtedly explains the Times' constant practice of publishing our most secret classified documents to all and sundry.

They're just trying to be helpful, you see. The fact that no one elected Bill Keller to represent us does not seem to have occurred to him, or anyone else at the Times. But Herr Keller no doubt graduated from the John Cougar Mellencamp School of International Diplomacy, where ankle-grabbing devotees of the camembert-and-fois gras persuasion can exercise their penchant for flyover historical revisionism while ruminating on the unbearable lightness of being American in a postmodern world where there is really no discernable difference between Islamofascists who cheerfully chop heads off Indonesian schoolgirls for wearing nail varnish and so-called "Christofascists" like Tammi Faye Baker who wears loads of it and [gasp] would like the right to say her own prayers in public places, but doesn't particularly care if you do:

Mellencamp: I think what would have been appropriate is exactly what we’re going to have to do right now.

Rose: What’s that?

Mellencamp: Talk to people.

Rose: Who do we go talk to? Do we call him up and say, “Osama, can we talk about this? We’re not real happy about this. Can we talk about it?”

Mellencamp then said we should talk to “the Muslims” and ask “where are we so far apart here?”

Later in the interview Mellencamp says he doesn’t know how he’d respond to the attack on Pearl Harbor in World War II because he doesn’t really know what happened. He says he’s read books, but he doesn’t know if history is always right.

It is a puzzlement, isn't it? The thing is, if we mean to win this war, we need, not just to be resolved upon victory, but to have a clear focus on what victory means and what it will take to get us there. NZ Bear asks that question here.

It's a question McQ asked a while ago. I found the discussion somewhat distressing then, because I've always thought, despite the persistent meme that the President hasn't communicated the goals, that our goals have always been quite clear. I've been listening, and I've heard the same message articulated over, and over, and over again. This isn't rocket science even if the execution hasn't been simple:

Our goal in Iraq is to leave behind a stable, self-governing society, which will no longer be a threat to the Middle East or to the United States. We’re following an orderly plan to reach this goal. Iraq now has a Governing Council, which has appointed interim government ministers. Once a constitution has been written, Iraq will move toward national elections. We want this process to go as quickly as possible — yet it must be done right. The free institutions of Iraq must stand the test of time. And a democratic Iraq will stand as an example to all the Middle East. We believe — and the Iraqi people will show — that liberty is the hope and the right of every land. Our work in Iraq has been long, it’s hard, and it’s not finished. We will stay the course. We will complete our job. And beyond Iraq, the war on terror continues. There will be no quick victory in this war.

That statement was made a long time ago. The goalposts haven't changed.

The end state doesn't have to be perfect - the Iraqis can't be expected to jumpstart two hundred years of American history in the blink of an eye. They're going to have to endure the same growing pains we did, and likely more. But that doesn't mean democracy can't take hold, or that it shouldn't be attempted. And once we establish a secure foundation they can build on, we won't be able to rest. Our long term regional interests demand both a military and a political presence in the region. As Richard indicates, we are in this for the long haul.

Complaining about the current situation is bootless. We are there.

The only question is, where do we go from here? To pretend, as so many people have done, that we can evade the hard choices that remain is irresponsible.

To continue to lie about where we've been and decisions that were made in the past, as so many in the media have done, is beyond reprehensible. We've been told over and over that we were "deceived" about the intelligence leading up to the war. The Senate Select Intelligence Report found that we were in fact led astray - by the intelligence community:

In the cases in the NTE where the IC did express uncertainty about its assessments concerning Iraq's WMD capabilities, those explanations suggested, in some cases, that Iraq's capabilities were even greater than the NIE judged. For example, the key judgments of the NIE said "we judge that we are seeing only a portion of Iraq's WMD efforts, owing to Baghdad's vigorous denial and deception efforts. Revelations after the Gulf War starkly demonstrate the extensive efforts undertaken by Iraq to deny information.

The Committee found that none of the analysts or other people interviewed by the Committee said that they were pressured to change their conclusions related to Iraq's links to terrorism. After 9/11, however, analysts were under tremendous pressure to make correct assessments, to avoid missing a credible threat, and to avoid an intelligence failure on the scale of 9/11. As a result, the Intelligence Community's assessments were bold and assertive in pointing out potential terrorist links. For instance, the June 2002 Central Intelligence Agency assessment Iraq and al-Qaida: Interpreting a Murky Relationship was, according to its Scope Note, "purposefully aggressive" in drawing connections between Iraq and al-Qaida in an effort to inform policymakers of the potential that such a relationship existed.

And yet it is the assessments of this very intelligence community, (which has repeatedly been WRONG) that Carl Levin, erroneously quoted by the Washington Post alleges is "improper" for anyone in government to question! Intelligence is historically uncertain and famously wrong in hindsight, and yet momentous decisions must still be made in the presence of incomplete and often chancy data. Human judgment must be applied and knowledge sifted. This is not 'manipulation', especially when not one, but three subsequent inquiries conclude no improper pressure took place. We want our leaders to be intelligent consumers of data, not passive sponges; and as the latest brouhaha in the Post clearly shows, the media are the last ones who should be claiming infallibility.

We have come to a final pass where there can be no more vacillation. Either the American people must finally stand behind their armed forces or they must resign themselves to renouncing the right of active self-government. We must take it on ourselves to be informed about what our leaders in Congress are doing, about who stands behind our troops and who does not. And we must demand honest government from our leaders, both those who support and oppose the war. Half-measures do no favors to those in the line of fire. Though I do not wish to see us pull out of Iraq, I would rather see an honest fight - even if we lose that argument - in Congress than the kind of hypocrisy we're seeing now. I believe it is precisely a lack of openness that is causing much of the confusion and lack of support we're seeing in the American people.

The recent uptick in violence in Baghdad is directly related to the dissent and division here at home. Our enemies depend on the fact that we remain unable to pull together as a nation, and some among us seem determined to give them every assurance that we are on their side. Please join The Victory Caucus.

Tell me that I have not wasted the past three years of my life, and that my faith in my country is not misguided.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:19 AM | Comments (55) | TrackBack

January 31, 2007

Cognitive Dissonance On Iraq War

bootsy.jpg It is a uniquely American tableau. Nowhere else in the world can one imagine the scene being played out in quite this way.

Up on Capitol Hill politicians duck life and death decisions with oily rhetoric designed to cover up the inconvenient truth. But no matter how long the palaver goes on, hard choices must be made and human beings will suffer and die as a result. There is no question about that. Not really.

The only real questions are these: which people will die, can the killing be limited, and in the end who will be stuck with the blame?

But Washington has always been a city of shadows and misdirection and so the pompous posturing continues, aided by a gullible press and a freshman Senator melodramatically thrusting his son's combat boots into the air. The cameras long ago panned away from the Iraqis and the troops who fight, and bleed, and come home in coffins. Now it is all about Senator Webb; his angst and his anger. And so the media rush to cover the dog and pony show, brushing aside the son who left college early to join a war his father trashes at every opportunity.

No matter. Lance Corporal Webb is just one more brainwashed soldier whose opinion the media finds not suitable for your consumption. It's not 'fair and balanced' enough; it doesn't support the metamessage they wish to convey. And anyway, Daddy just keeps talking... and talking... and talking and we wouldn't want to miss a single, precious soundbyte:

TIMES-DISPATCH: The Times-Dispatch has called on you and your colleagues to shake President Bush’s extended hand and help fix our nation’s health insurance and payment system. Will you?

WEBB: A lot people lost their hands in Iraq. Three thousand soldiers, and counting, have lost even more.

TIMES-DISPATCH: Err… um … that’s nice. Well, actually it’s not nice at all, but that’s beside the point. My question wasn’t about hands in general, but about Bush’s in particular. Will you shake it?

WEBB: Just yesterday my boy called me from Iraq. He said some of the locals were shaking in fear. It’s not healthy, and America will have to pay for years to come, all because George W. Bush wasn’t prescient enough in 2003 to figure out what a brilliant guy I was at the time.

TIMES-DISPATCH: That’s not what I asked. What I asked was, will you shake the President’s hand?

WEBB: I think that is between me and my hand.

More and more our national debate on the war has become infected with an eerie sort of cognitive dissonance, the sort of pervasive escapism one expects to find in Hollywood, but not on Capitol Hill. It should not surprise us then to find a popular drama series, Fox television's "24", grappling more honestly with the unforgiving tradeoffs between security and freedom than our elected leaders:

Terrorist threats place American civilians and government officials in a position in which they must choose between conflicting loyalties. It is the show's genius, and the key to its enduring appeal, that its writers almost never lapse into thinking that these choices are simple. This is not to say that there are no right and wrong answers. But right and wrong are often only clear -- especially to the characters, but even to the viewer -- in retrospect.

...But it is not merely a question of choosing between family and a greater good; or -- in other contexts that crop up repeatedly on the show -- between civil liberties and national security; or between torture and human rights. It is a failing of our politics that these kinds of questions, in the real world, are presented by both sides as either easy to answer or unnecessary to choose between -- or both. It is one achievement of "24" that it treats these tradeoffs as both real and difficult. They are questions that depend on the circumstances in which they are asked.

If only Congress faced reality as unflinchingly as Jack Bauer does each week on our TV screens. But there is the wrath of CAIR to consider - that sort of tough talk doesn't play well with the focus groups, and so it is best to step over the crack in the sidewalk, lest it break our backs. Even Muslim-Americans hesitate to speak out, as M. Zuhdi Jasser, a former Navy commander, comments:

To this point, the Muslim community has been able to completely avoid any real debate over Islamism. In fact, we see now a movement in England and the West to blame the West’s foreign policy as a root cause of terror rather than the real root cause — theocratic Islamist ideology.

But in a very real sense, are ordinary Americans any different? For five years now, afraid of igniting deep divisions within our own society, we have oh-so-sensitively avoided any real debate over the war on terror and what must be done if we mean to win it. The real and quite inconvenient truth, revealed in a recent poll, is that the majority of the American people aren't even sure they want us to win. And our fighting men have heard that message loud and clear. They know their efforts are not supported no matter what warm and fuzzy words issue forth from the belly of Congress. One has only to read Senator John Warner's tragically nonsensical resolution to hear one thing loud and clear: the Republican Party has asked our military to accomplish a mission with a plan they admit has not worked in the past for lack of resources.

And, having openly admitted that fact, they now refuse the commander, whose appointment they just overwhelmingly approved, the troops and equipment he just told Congress he needs to do the job.

Convenient translation: "You, sir, have just been relieved of command. Oh, go ahead and keep the fancy title and uniform, feel free to take the blame when the mission fails, but we are dictating to you how to do your job. By the way, this is the same job your predecessor was tasked with, but though we all complained for years there weren't enough boots on the ground, we now think you ought to be able to do the job with insufficient resources. And don't bother trying to tell us what you think you need because we are not interested. That is all.".

And with this solemn pronouncement from Senator Warner, the cognitive dissonance is complete. So many things have been clarified for us. The President may have thought he was the Commander-in-Chief, but now we know better. As McQ (who has himself questioned the wisdom of the surge in the past) notes, there is a time for discussion, and a time when, having voiced your disagreement, you close ranks and get behind the plan. Of course, this metaphor assumes all parties are on the same side, and that they truly want to win.

Those assumptions have now been rather thoroughly refuted, and Congress, though it will not openly assume responsibility for the outcome, has refused to allow either the President or the military to direct military operations.

What the Warner resolution makes crystal clear is that General Petraeus may have thought he was in charge of military operations, but General Abizaid's judgment and that of his junior officers, not the current commanding General's, will be allowed to overrule the word of the commander and decide events on the ground:

Whereas, U.S. Central Command Commander General John Abizaid testified to Congress on November 15, 2006, "I met with every divisional commander, General Casey, the Corps Commander, [and] General Dempsey. We all talked together. And I said, in your professional opinion, if we were to bring in more American troops now, does it add considerably to our ability to achieve success in Iraq? And they all said no.

And so now we know the value of all that talk of "listening to the Generals". It was all a matter of which Generals, wasn't it? We don't want to listen to General Mattis, or General Zilmer:

Additional troops earmarked for that region under President Bush's planned increase will buy the region the time it desperately needs, Zilmer said.

"What these additional Marines provide to us is an ability to reinforce the success that we've seen in the last couple of months," he said. "It allows us to get to some of the areas that we haven't been able to establish the presence we would have liked.

"But at the end of the day, it's still about providing that time, and that's what these 4,000 Marines will give us. They will provide that additional time for us to develop the Iraqi army and the Iraqi police, which at the end of the day, are essential to the long-term security and stability in Anbar province."

Well General Zilmer, you have your answer from General Senator Warner. Put that little piece of Republican Party support in your pipe and smoke it.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:27 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

January 29, 2007

NY TimesWatch: The Times Discovers Bullets!

5 a.m. we step outside to retrieve the daily fishwrap but to our utter surprise, it's dark outside. And cold.

Very cold. This is just another thing for which we can thank the stupid Chimp. Since he refused to ratify Kyoto, the weather seems prone to ever more alarming and unpredictable fluctuations.

Yesterday white stuff was actually falling from the sky. Who knows what it will be like outside our front door six months from now? Probably hotter than Hades.

giant_duck_of_peace.jpgThis would never have happened under a Kedwards administration... But there is no point in grieving over might-have-beens. Sadly, there seems little chance now that the Giant Duck of Peace will spread its wings over our wounded nation, salving the harsh realities of war with the comforting wingbeat of Truthiness:

At the rally, 12-year-old Moriah Arnold stood on her toes to reach the microphone and tell the crowd: “Now we know our leaders either lied to us or hid the truth. Because of our actions, the rest of the world sees us as a bully and a liar.”

And a little child shall lead them. Everybody knows you can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake! Just ask Senator Warner! He and other Republican stalwarts in the Senate are falling all over themselves in their eagerness to help the Democrats support General Petraeus by sending fewer troops than he needs to get the job done! This new, bipartisan spirit of cooperation that has seized Washington is truly inspiring.

Meanwhile, as our elected representatives busily badmouth the Iraqis and undercut support our armed forces, the Iraqis continue to delude themselves that our brave, murdering troops can somehow win their illegal and immoral war of occupation:

The head of one of the two city councils in Sadr city told AFP that he's ready to cooperate with the Iraqi forces in implementing the security plan. In the statement that appeared on al-Mada Kareem Hassan said "The presence of popular armed committees [Sadr militias] will end automatically when Iraqi forces enter the city because the need for the committees will cease to exist"

We talked earlier about insurgents and terrorists fleeing Baghdad to Diyala, and today there's another report about a similar migration, from al-Sabah:

Eyewitnesses in some volatile areas said that large numbers of militants have fled to Syria to avoid being trapped in the incoming security operations.

According to those witnesses, residents and shopkeepers are no longer concerned about militants whose existence in public used to bring on clashes that put the lives of civilians in danger.

A shopkeeper in al-Karkh [western Baghdad] said that many of them [militants] packed their stuff and headed to Syria to wait and see what the operations are going to be like.

While experts consider this a failure in protecting the plan's secrecy which might lead to the loss of the surprise factor, they also say it indicates the seriousness and resolve in this plan that is already scaring away the militants. PM Maliki pointed out that seeing them run away is a good thing but he returned and said the security forces would chase them down everywhere after Baghdad is clear.

As we said in the last update, Maliki won unanimous support for his plan in the parliament and despite some opposition from the radical factions the major blocs are expressing their support and approval of the plan:

Spokesman of the Accord front Saleem Abdullah said after the session that the principles of the security plan have the approval of the front and "constitutes a quality leap toward serving Iraq's people".

Hussein al-Sha'lan of the Iraqi bloc stressed on the importance of cooperation among political powers to ensure the success of the plan which he called "realistic and well-thought".

Abdul Khaliq Zangana of the Kurdish alliance said the plan would deal a heavy blow to Iraq's enemies and put an end to the crimes of outlaws and their backers.

On the other hand citizens we talked to after the prime minister made his speech before the parliament say that there's no place for mistakes or weakness this time but they also seemed confident that Maliki has prepared the right tools for success.

If only they read the New York Times they would realize that even a battle where we kill 250 to 300 insurgents, foil an assassination attempt on Ali al-Sistani, and suffer only minimal casualties in return (great video by CNN anchor Arwa Damon) was rendered utterly meaningless by the tragic death, last Wednesday, of Staff Sgt. Hector Leija:

The joint military effort has been billed as the first step toward an Iraqi takeover of security. But this morning, in the two dark, third-floor apartments on Haifa Street, that promise seemed distant. What was close, and painfully real, was the cost of an escalating street fight that had trapped American soldiers and Iraqi bystanders between warring sects.

And as with so many days here, a bullet changed everything.

Yes folks, there may be a larger war here, but we need to keep things in perspective.

There was a miserable failure here. And we lost another one of our own. What was that body count again?

Is this what he fought for? So that a mostly negative account of his death would be used to counterbalance a battle we won, his life reduced to a headline: "When One Bullet Alters Everything"?

What about everything Staff Sergeant Leija did up to that point?

Didn't that alter anything? Apparently not. For the New York Times it was not the life of Staff Sergeant Leija that mattered but his death.

Not what he stood for, what he loved, what he cared about, what he fought for that they bring to their readers. The Times has discovered the astonishing fact that in war, bullets kill and we are all so much better informed for their in-depth, on the scene investigative report.

The Times: keeping the war in perspective, on Page One.

Posted by Cassandra at 06:44 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

January 23, 2007

Time For A Gut Check, America

What is this nation made of?

What is so hard to understand about radical Islamofacism? We have been warned by friends.

We have been taunted by enemies.

...your most disgraceful case was in Somalia; where- after vigorous propaganda about the power of the USA and its post cold war leadership of the new world order- you moved tens of thousands of international force, including twenty eight thousands American solders into Somalia. However, when tens of your solders were killed in minor battles and one American Pilot was dragged in the streets of Mogadishu you left the area carrying disappointment, humiliation, defeat and your dead with you. Clinton appeared in front of the whole world threatening and promising revenge, but these threats were merely a preparation for withdrawal.

You have been disgraced by Allah and you withdrew; the extent of your impotence and weaknesses became very clear. It was a pleasure for the "heart" of every Muslim and a remedy to the "chests" of believing nations to see you defeated in the three Islamic cities of Beirut, Aden and Mogadishu.

September 11th, 2001. World Trade Center, Pentagon, and Flight 93 attacked. Nearly 3000 Americans of all races, religions, and creeds...dead.

And still we refuse to learn.

Reading General Petraeus' strategy for quelling the violence in Baghdad makes two things more plain than ever.

First, we are our own worst enemies. And second, the constant media and Congressional efforts to undercut this war have got to stop. Whether or not, as we are triumphantly informed by the lamestream media, 65% of the American people have given up on our troops they need to face reality. Our military are committed in the short term.

They are in harm's way. Waffling and infighting will not bring them home sooner; they will only place their lives in greater jeopardy, while rendering the sacrifices of those who have died or been grievously wounded meaningless. They deserve better from us.

It's time for another gut check, America. Time to stop the whining and the carping. Time to stop insulting our fighting men and women; diminishing their voluntary sacrifices by calling them children. They are not your "kids". As one reader, a Vietnam veteran, so aptly remarked last night, there are no children on a battlefield and the military does not recruit babies. They can read, write, and think for themselves by the time they sign on that dotted line and when they reenlist, as they do from combat units all over in astonishing numbers, that says something very powerful that all your condescending and cynical rhetoric can't wipe away. It says that they believe in each other and in their mission even if you don't. And our President believes in them, even if you don't. What a sad, sad commentary that is, when the American people have lost confidence in the armed forces who have served them so nobly and so well under such difficult circumstances, under a Congress and a so-called free press who have undercut them at every turn, who have published classified details of vulnerabilities in their body armor so snipers would have a clearer idea of how to defeat it, all in the name of "freedom".

And you, the people of America, stood silent and allowed this.

You, the people of America, the conspicuous consumers, did not object, did not cancel your subscriptions to the New York Times, because that would be inconvenient.

And now you are tired of war. Only 28% of you approve of the President, and you sit passively in your homes, waiting for him to explain the war to you better, to "ask you to sacrifice". Like spoiled babies, you whine pathetically because the President hasn't asked you nicely enoughto participate in this war.

Do you, perhaps, require detailed instructions? An engraved invitiation? What mystical force prevents you from "sacrificing" unless and until the President of the United States asks you to? Do you lack the willpower to turn off the television and stay out of the Mall? To keep away from that recruiter's office? It must be horribly, horribly difficult for you. I pity anyone who feels so powerless that remain a prisoner in their own home, forced into inaction and at the mercy of a President they openly despise; a man with all the formidable intellectual prowess of a mildly retarded chimpanzee who (we are told) somehow managed to rout not one but two vastly smarter opponents in national elections as the Free People of the United States looked on in helpless horror. And that was before he shredded the Constitution and fed it to Barney the White House terrier, completing our national paralysis.

And still you second-guess the voluntary decisions of your "children". In the 1800s we saw the heartbreak of families torn asunder by war, brothers, even fathers and sons on different sides. One need look no farther than the family of Senator Jim Webb to see the conflict that is tearing this nation apart played out again. While the father wears his son's combat boots on the campaign trail and calls for the troops to come home, the son fought fiercely to get onto the field of battle and fight a war his father doesn't believe in:

"For me not to respond to the country's call, I'd be letting myself and the history of my family down," said Webb.

Watching the battle of Al Fallujah on TV from his campus, Webb decided he had seen too much of the war in Iraq from the safety of the United States.

Webb made his decision to leave the University in December of 2004, and began working with Marine Corps recruiters to find his way into the war.

"Watching the coverage of fighting in Fallujah showed me that I needed to be out there," said Webb. "Enlisting in the Marine Corps was the fastest way to Iraq."

Webb officially enlisted in January of 2005, graduating from boot camp at Parris Island, S.C., in May.

Shortly after arriving at the School of Infantry for advanced training, Webb was invited to take an indoctrination to become a reconnaissance Marine.

While attending the advanced schools of reconnaissance, however, Webb became ill and was forced to end his training.

Although the battalion was willing to keep him on board to later finish his training, Webb was faced with a difficult decision. Webb was proud of his chance to become a recon Marine, but his desire to deploy ultimately swayed his decision.

"I was looking for the fastest route to Iraq I could find, and the Recon battalion wasn't scheduled to leave when I would finish training," said Webb.

Webb was separated from the recon battalion and attached with the first deploying infantry unit available.

On January 9, 2006, Webb became a rifleman for 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, which was scheduled to deploy to Ar Ramadi, Iraq later in the year.

Now halfway through his deployment with 1/6, Webb has experienced much of what he watched in college and is content with his decision.

"I was relieved when I got to Ramadi," said Webb. "Now, I've done my part."

Our forces are going in. General Petraeus has made it clear that this time things will be done differently, whether or not the Iraqis respond as we hope:

The general, whose Senate confirmation hearing is scheduled for this morning, plans to send all 17,500 additional U.S. troops ordered by President Bush into Baghdad, regardless of whether Iraqi army units join the fight as planned, according to officials familiar with his thinking. Anticipating an uneven performance by the Iraqi army, military planners are advocating using American force and funding quickly to establish early victories, both in improving security and showing economic progress

... "To do what has to be done, they all have to go," said a senior defense official who met last week with Petraeus.

During the first months of the campaign, Petraeus is likely to be wary of declarations of success or calls from Capitol Hill to begin curtailing the troop increase. "Gaining the trust of the populace is going to take more than 30 to 90 days, which means the timeline for obtaining real results are out of sync with what the Hill and the U.S. populace is looking for in the way of results," a strategist for the Joint Staff said.

Petraeus will require his troops to operate and live among the population, hoping to safeguard security and economic gains for neighborhoods cleared of violence. Military experts say that violence could decrease through April and May but that once insurgents get a feel for U.S. and Iraqi army tactics, a new "fighting season" could begin in late spring -- triggering potential political problems for U.S. public support of the operation.

The question is, will fickle partisan politicians be able to put aside their selfish interests for once and pull together for the sake of this nation?

Very doubtful. This would require a faith in both the ideals they profess to believe in and a willingness to put their own hides on the line that they've shown no signs of to date. Jim Webb is entitled to his opinion on the war, but the fact is he is not going to stop the surge. And so the question remains, will he support his son? Or will he try to undercut what the men and women of the United States military are trying to do during time of war?

And there is a larger and far more discouraging question at stake: if men like Jim Webb aren't willing to match the courage and faith of what may well be the next Greatest Generation, one wonders what hope there is for the rest of the nation?

CWCID: Badger 6 (who, by the way, runs an excellent site) for the Webb article, a certain Colorado Cat for the first Wafa Sultan link.

Update: And the HVES thought we were perturbed with Herr Webb... heh.

Posted by Cassandra at 05:16 AM | Comments (29) | TrackBack

January 21, 2007

Glimpses Through The Parting Fog of War

...if there's anyone who believes that these youngsters want to fight, as the Pentagon and some generals have said, you can just forget about it...If a young fella has an option of having a decent career or joining the army to fight in Iraq, you can bet your life he would not be in Iraq.

- Rep. Charles Rangel

Think you know the face of war? Think again. War speaks with the soul of a poet, not the inarticulate voice of the poor, the stupid, the uneducated:

Here I stand, in modern-day Iraq. I have come further to fight here than any soldier of any nation before me, and I fight with weapons and equipment that lay pale the panoply of earlier armies. I represent the pinnacle of force projection and decisive battle, and yet I fight here, where unnumbered young warriors have fought and died through time stretching out of memory. It was on this land that the Babylonian empire first arose out of those first Sumerian agrarians, only to be conquered by the Assyrians, and still later throw off the foreign chains. It was here that Alexander's phalanxes swept by, trailing Hellenism in their wake. Rome, and later the Byzantines, drew their border with Persia at the Euphrates River. At that river was where the Sassanids made their stand against the spread of Arabian Islam. The Khans of the Mongols laid this land waste, sometimes killing only to build their towers of bones higher.

This region is steeped in history. We walk on it; we breath it in. Eons of history surround us, infiltrate us, and turn to dust beneath our feet. The ashes of countless cultures, civilizations, and rulers dreams lie under the earth. With each breath, I inhale a few molecules of the dying gasp of Cyrus II, the Persian "Constantine of the East". In the howling wind I can almost hear the cries of a countless multitude dying on killing grounds that bridge across the ages. The same wind carries the red dust that might yet hold a few drops of blood from the battle at Carrhae- the first, crushing defeat for Rome's red blooded legions. Under my heel, a speck grinds into dust: the last grain of sand that remains of the Hanging Gardens at Babylon that are now known only in legend. Some of the world's oldest religions tell us that somewhere in this ancient Cradle of life, God himself breathed on this dust, and it became man, the father of us all. Whatever path we take here, we walk on history.

I walk softly, for I tread on the ghosts of years.

War speaks with the voice of grief. But there is so much more. Beneath the pain lie the promise of healing and the fragile flame of hope:

On the personal level, we have suffered some terrible things at the outset of this New Year. The oldest of my cousins, who is almost a couple of decades older than me, met his death by a terrible accident involving American troops. This is a problem that has occurred so often that really requires reconsideration of the way that M.N. forces are deployed. This was particularly painful as this man was one of the most harmless and peaceful of all, a man who has never hurt anybody, a man with a large family and a man who has born the full brunt of the lean years of these last couple of decades. He had to venture out in his old car in one of these dangerous neighborhoods of Baghdad to do some shopping for his family. In his whole life he never drove his car faster than an exasperating crawling speed. He always created a traffic jam behind him. As he became quite old, his sight and hearing became very weak. We don’t know what happened exactly, he must have panicked; he must have misunderstood something. All we know is that he was shot by American troops. I don’t bear any grudge against these guys. They are placed in a terrible situation. They feel threatened and can hardly distinguish a terrorist from an innocent wayfarer. This is a problem that requires solution, but the solution is easier said than done. This is the terror and terrible difficulty of urban warfare. And it is precisely this that the terrorists are counting upon.

Another incident involved a dear old friend of ours, the family dentist, a brave man, who went everyday to work in his dental clinic, ignoring all the dangers and stubbornly going on with his usual daily routine as though there was nothing happening outside. The street where his clinic is situated is a well known location in Baghdad for the private medical community. Some of the best known medical practitioners used to work there, and the place used to be bustling with patients and people, especially in the afternoons and early evening. Nowadays, it has become almost deserted after doctors, dentists and pharmacists became favorite targets for kidnappings, extortion and murder. This man just kept on going. We were always worried about him and wondered about his courage and tried to talk him into more caution; he just smiled and shrugged off our concerns. Well, at last they got him. They broke into his house, took him away together with his three cars parked in the garage. After few days, we heard that they are demanding a big sum, and most likely it is going to be paid, and even then there is no guarantee for his safety as has been the case so often. In such cases the ordinary citizen has no one to turn to. Police protection for ordinary people is something of the past, a historical memory, you might say. Well, here it is; the sad situation that we have to admit and tell the world.

Another recent incident; a young man, a friend of my son, was shot in the head in our up-town neighborhood; for no sin other than being a Sunni. Our neighborhood which used to be so pleasant and peaceful before has become within the red zone, and people are deserting their erstwhile elegant homes.

The cancer is spreading, and the ordinary decent and peaceful people just can’t continue their existence. Baghdad is being taken over by ruthless gangs and blind terror. The accursed Zarqawi plan has worked. It is not difficult to make mischief, and there is nothing for the Sadamo-Ladinists to be proud about. For history’s sake, if we have to consider chronology, the destruction of the holy shrines at Samara marked the start of a new phase, the start of a steeper descent into sectarian strife and civil disintegration. Of-course it is mainly a deliberate plan of the "Sods" (a short name that I coin and will use henceforth for this motley collection of Saddamists, Al-Qaeda types, and other “insurgent groups”. It is the point when the Shiites, especially in Baghdad, started to retaliate, ignoring the advice and admonitions of the moderate religious leaders such as Al-Sistani. And it is usually the innocent and the weak who suffer, of both sides.

This is the horror we don't like to think about, that which haunts the dreams of our protectors, our sheepdogs in the middle of the night. Because it does happen. In war, the innocent are caught in the crossfire, sometimes our own troops are cut down by their own side. No one, least of all those who volunteer to place their lives on the line to free a foreign people, wants this to happen. But war is a deadly business and the press rush to condemn a situation they can't begin to understand. And yet Alaa is strangely gentle, and far more merciful than our own media. Surely he has reason to be angry, to hate, even. Yet oddly he seems to understand the harsh exigencies of war, to forgive what we, sometimes, cannot seem forgive in ourselves.

Why is that? Could it be these Iraqis are made of far sterner stuff than so-called "experts" like Joe Biden and John Kerry give them credit for? It would seem so, for war also speaks with the voice of determination:

There is a common misconception, or least I perceive a common misconception from what I read and what I hear, that Iraqi's are not willing to die for their newly democratic country. That is an unfair charge that should be refuted.

Last year,

in the City of Falluja alone, 101 Iraqi Police (IP's) were killed fighting the insurgency. They were assassinated in front of their homes, they were blown up at check points and recruiting events.

Bill Ardolino has a very good and insightful interview with a Falluja IP. Reading it will give you a better understanding of who these men are and the challenges they face and we face together. I was at a meeting last week where an IP Colonel said, "Iraqi or American we are all on the same team." He was right, we are.

Everyone matters, and everyone matters equally.

Think you know the face of war? Think again. War has an Iraqi face, and that face has been bloodied and battered:

INDC: You mentioned that you hate the insurgents, is that just more now because you've been shot or did you have a different opinion of them before?

Mohammed: "They hit me and they also killed some of my family. Actually they killed my uncle who used to be an Iraqi Army soldier, and they killed him and burned his face. And then they actually started threatening us as well."

INDC: They burned his face?

Mohammed: "Yes. It's a substance called "tizar," it's like, acid. They put it in his face."

INDC: He was alive when they did this?

Mohammed: "Yes, he was alive. They burned him and stabbed him so many times, and also they shot him with bullets. And we found a note on him saying, 'The police and the army and the Americans are all the same.'

But what shines through years of hardship is an utter determination not to give up until Iraq is freed from the grip of the terrorists who are tearing her apart:

INDC: What are your personal plans for the next few years? What do you see yourself doing?

Mohammed: "I think if the situation keeps going the same way, (with vigilantes) killing the insurgents the same way, it (the insurgency) will finish."

"Not to mention the operation that took place yesterday, by the Iraqi Army and the police (Special Missions Group). It actually shook (the insurgents) so much. If we do another 5 or so, I think we'll finish them."

INDC: How many insurgents do you think are operating in Fallujah?

Mohammed: "A little more than 500. Maybe more than that."

"Actually I need to go, because I don't want to stay a long time."

INDC: Ok. One last, quick question: what do you think of Americans, and has that opinion changed over time?

Mohammed: "I think we need the Americans. If they go out right now it's gonna be a disaster. And believe me, even if they get out of Fallujah, Washington itself will be a target."

But back here in Washington, that grim determination is not shared by everyone. Half a world away the corpses are piling up on the battlefield. Here on the homefront, the chattering classes pass the time by counting the coffins of our warriors, who it amuses them to call "children":

Last week a letter in the paper ran off the usual list of oppressions and deletions of basic liberties, including "the coffins we are not allowed to see." It reminded me of a conversation I had in Arizona with a Marine, whose family was also staying at my in-laws' house. (Their daughter played with Gnat, and was one of the Ghosts of Christmas in the play.) He had just returned from accompanying the body of a Marine back to his home town for a memorial. Lance Cpl. Nick Palmer, 19, was killed by a sniper in Fallujah. The vehicle had stopped to defuse an IED, which had been placed to fix the Humvee in place. Flypaper. Lance Cpl. Palmer was manning a gun on the back of the Humvee when he was hit. The shot came from an industrial building a good distance away; whoever killed him had particular skill. It could have been one of those ordinary Iraqis so enraged by the occupation they quit their jobs as an insurance actuary or auto mechanic and went to sniper school, perhaps. Or maybe it was a Ba'athist "Minuteman." Or an imported Iranian merc. You have to admit it's possible.

The networks may not have shown footage of the coffin as it arrived, but it certainly had the opportunity to show the funeral and the ceremony that preceded it. The Marine, who was Lance Cpl. Palmer's commanding officer, described the event: they arrived at night. Both sides of the street were filled with townspeople, gathered to greet the soldier. Every light in every window was on; every pole had a flag.

The church pews had no empty seats. "Amazing Grace" was played and the Purple Heart presented.

Everyone was allowed to see the coffin, and reflect on what it stood for.

The local TV station's website has a video interview with the parents, which manages to work in Vietnam in the first six seconds. If the TV station filmed the homecoming, it doesn't appear to be on the site. I can’t think of any reason why they wouldn't have shown the homecoming, unless they regarded the interview with the grieving parents as the full measure they were required to give.

The Commanding Officer who appears on the phone call is the Marine who told me the story. It's a very short part of the television story, but it was an intensely private moment and we need see no more. You might not get a sense of the CO's emotions from the voice on the other end. Trust me: it's a wound, and it’s deep. He didn't just make a phone call; he left his family at Christmas time to accompany the body and speak at the service – then drove a rental through a storm to get to the airpot to rejoin his family for the few days he had left stateside.

So the next time someone talks about the coffins we’re not allowed to see, consider all that.

Compared to the media's twisted and obscene rhetoric, war itself with all its heartbreak and savagery begins to seem as clean as a stretch of open desert in the noonday sun.

Posted by Cassandra at 11:52 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

January 18, 2007

Terrorist Surveillance Brought Under FISA

Do we all holy rites.
Let there be sung Non nobis and Te Deum,
The dead with charity enclosed in clay,
And then to Calais, and to England then,
Where ne'er from Phrance arrived more happy men !

Mirabile Dictu!

When the half vast editorial staff clambered forth from betwixt the marital sheets in the early morning hours a strange but intoxicating scent greeted us. We breathed deeply of it; savored the invigorating, slightly acrid tang as it coursed through our body, sending tiny shudders from our curly little head down to our shell-pink toes. Why, it was like a little bitter ray of sunshine! We were intrigued: what could this mysterious, unfamiliar scent be?

Finally it came to us.... this was the smell of Democratic victory in the morning:

The Bush administration, in a surprise reversal, said on Wednesday that it had agreed to give a secret court jurisdiction over the National Security Agency’s wiretapping program and would end its practice of eavesdropping without warrants on Americans suspected of ties to terrorists.

The Justice Department said it had worked out an “innovative” arrangement with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that provided the “necessary speed and agility” to provide court approval to monitor international communications of people inside the United States without jeopardizing national security.

Egad - who would have believed it? Thanks to the People's Congress, the steel-toed Doc Martens of oppression have been lifted from our throats. Now patriotic Americans can finally exercise their Constitutional right to make those Friends and Family calls to Usama without that horrid Mike Hayden listening in. Well actually it turns out he wasn't actually listening in, because there are waaaaay too many phone calls for him to eavesdrop on every single phone conversation. There are only so many hours in a day, you know, even for super-duper shpooks like the folks at the NSA who just *live* to harsh the collective mellows of freedom-loving people like you and the half vast editorial staff.

It's just that in certain situations law enforcement does have a legitimate need to speedy access to phone conversations to save human life, and the FISA warrant process truly was too slow:

I have extensive experience with the consequences of government bungling due to overstrict interpretations of FISA. As chief counsel for the Senate Intelligence Committee from 1981 to 1984, I participated in oversight of FISA in the first years after its passage. When I subsequently became deputy assistant attorney general in the Reagan administration, one of my responsibilities was the terrorism portfolio, which included working with FISA.

In 1985, I experienced the pain of terminating a FISA wiretap when to do so defied common sense and thwarted the possibility of gaining information about American hostages. During the TWA 847 hijacking, American serviceman Robert Stethem was murdered and the remaining American male passengers taken hostage. We had a previously placed tap in the U.S. and thought there was a possibility we could learn the hostages' location. But Justice Department career lawyers told me that the FISA statute defined its "primary purpose" as foreign intelligence gathering. Because crimes were taking place, the FBI had to shut down the wire.

FISA's "primary purpose" became the basis for the "wall" in 1995, when the Clinton-Gore Justice Department prohibited those on the intelligence side from even communicating with those doing law enforcement. The Patriot Act corrected this problem and the FISA appeals court upheld the constitutionality of that amendment, characterizing the rigid interpretation as "puzzling." The court cited an FBI agent's testimony that efforts to investigate two of the Sept. 11 hijackers were blocked by senior FBI officials, concerned about the FISA rule requiring separation.

Today, FISA remains ill-equipped to deal with ever-changing terrorist threats. It was never envisioned to be a speedy collector of information to prevent an imminent attack on our soil. And the reasons the president might decide to bypass FISA courts are readily understandable, as it is easy to conjure up scenarios like the TWA hijacking, in which strict adherence to FISA would jeopardize American lives.

The overarching problem is that FISA, written in 1978, is technologically antediluvian. It was drafted by legislators who had no concept of how terrorists could communicate in the 21st century or the technology that would be invented to intercept those communications. The rules regulating the acquisition of foreign intelligence communications were drafted when the targets to be monitored had one telephone number per residence and all the phones were plugged into the wall. Critics like Al Gore and especially critics in Congress, rather than carp, should address the gaps created by a law that governs peacetime communications-monitoring but does not address computers, cell phones or fiber optics in the midst of war.

The NSA undoubtedly has identified many foreign phone numbers associated with al Qaeda. If these numbers are monitored only from outside the U.S., as consistent with FISA requirements, the agency cannot determine with certainty the location of the persons who are calling them, including whether they are in the U.S. New technology enables the president, via NSA, to establish an early-warning system to alert us immediately when any person located in the U.S. places a call to, or receives a call from, one of the al Qaeda numbers. Do Mr. Gore and congressional critics want the NSA to be unable to locate a secret al Qaeda operative in the U.S.?

If we had used this ability before 9/11, as the vice president has noted, we could have detected the presence of Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi in San Diego, more than a year before they crashed American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon.

And to correct an oft-cited misconception, there are no five-minute "emergency" taps. FISA still requires extensive time-consuming procedures. To prepare the two- to three-inch thick applications for nonemergency warrants takes months. The so-called emergency procedure cannot be done in a few hours, let alone minutes. The attorney general is not going to approve even an emergency FISA intercept based on a breathless call from NSA.

For example, al Qaeda Agent X, having a phone under FISA foreign surveillance, travels from Pakistan to New York. The FBI checks airline records and determines he is returning to Pakistan in three hours. Background information must be prepared and the document delivered to the attorney general. By that time, Agent X has done his business and is back on the plane to Pakistan, where NSA can resume its warrantless foreign surveillance. Because of the antiquated requirements of FISA, the surveillance of Agent X has to cease only during the critical hours he is on U.S. soil, presumably planning the next attack.

Even if time were not an issue, any emergency FISA application must still establish the required probable cause within 72 hours of placing the tap. So al Qaeda Agent A is captured in Afghanistan and has Agent B's number in his cell phone, which is monitored by NSA overseas. Agent B makes two or three calls every day to Agent C, who flies to New York. That chain of facts, without further evidence, does not establish probable cause for a court to believe that C is an agent of a foreign power with information about terrorism. Yet, post 9/11, do the critics want NSA to cease monitoring Agent C just because he landed on U.S. soil?

Yawn.... boring technical details again. Change the channel. Isn't Keith Olbermann coming on soon to tell us our beloved Constitution has been passed slowly through a Cuisinart before being fed to Barney the White House Terrier? But what really gets our freak on is that a small black dog has finally displaced Bill O'Reilly as the longest-running Worst Person in the World. For all we know, the little bugger offed David Gregory too and buried him in an unmarked grave under the Rose Garden. Well that tears it - no more BarneyCam for us. Nossir.

Damn. At any rate this latest news obviously confirms what we knew all along: Congressional fears of an out-of-control Executive branch were clearly well-founded:

Board members said that they were impressed by the safeguards the government has built into the NSA's monitoring of phone calls and computer transmissions, and that they wished the administration could tell the public more about them to ease distrust.

Former Clinton liberals and privacy experts have been briefed on the program and have pronounced themselves "impressed by the government's concern for our liberties":

"If the American public, especially civil libertarians like myself, could be more informed about how careful the government is to protect our privacy while still protecting us from attacks, we'd be more reassured," said Lanny Davis , a former Clinton White House lawyer who is the board's lone liberal Democrat.

Even more fun than the usual round of progressyve triumphalism will be the roundup of reich-wing reax. Some, predictably, will recoil in horreur at this show of Presidential 'retreat', as though the war on terror were some sort of Article II pissing contest and winning the instant battle were more important than winning the larger war. As someone who stands to lose a husband and a son if things deteriorate, we can't quite see it that way. The President has never billed himself as anything but a pragmatist; this is why we have always supported him. The knock on him all along has been that he supposedly has not had backup plans. Now all of a sudden he is getting rapped for having a fall back in case things went the way things were predicted to go (Congress turning over) well over a year ago?

Sometimes we wonder. We really do. It's all fine and dandy to have lofty principles, but if a program is vital to national security, you secure its survival at all costs, and that means having Plans B, C, and possibly D, E, and F. As John Hinderaker says, and this is our sense, only time will tell (and most likely we will never know) whether the agreements the administration has negotiated with FISA have compromised the integrity of the program:

Gonzales assured the Senators--not that they care, necessarily, but we do--that security will not be compromised because the court authorization "had to ensure that the Intelligence Community would have the speed and agility necessary to protect the Nation from al Qaeda--the very speed and agility that was offered by the Terrorist Surveillance Program." He adds that "These orders are innovative, they are complex, and it took considerable time and work for the Government to develop the approach that was proposed to the Court...."

So what has changed? It's hard to say. These "orders" presumably authorize the NSA to initiate surveillance under emergency circumstances without going through the cumbersome FISA warrant process. Frankly, I haven't had time for extensive research, but it isn't obvious what provision of FISA authorizes such blanket "orders."

In any event, the administration seems to have found a solution that allows the Terrorist Surveillance Program to continue in all but name, while defusing the criticisms of the program--which were, in my opinion, almost entirely unjustified.

That the administration has been working with the judiciary for over a year confirms that the White House was not, as John Rockefellar insists, hell bent on a "go it alone" strategy.

That Congressional Democrats still intend, despite the White House's move to bring the NSA program under court oversight and the statements of several civil liberties groups that protections in the program were "impressive", to continue their investigations demonstrates that their concerns are largely driven by partisan politics rather than any geniune desire to ensure adequate oversight.

In other words in over a year, little has changed. Capitol Hill is still Capitol Hill.

Posted by Cassandra at 05:43 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 15, 2007

Trading American Lives For Votes?

Via Ace, this William Kristol column nails it:

Say you're an average congressman. How do you react to President Bush's Iraq speech? You suspect, deep down, that he's probably doing more or less what he needs to do. We can't just click our heels and get out of Iraq--the consequences would be disastrous. And the current strategy isn't working. You have said so yourself. Last fall you called for replacing Rumsfeld. You've complained that there weren't enough troops. What's more, you've heard good things about General David Petraeus from colleagues with military expertise. So now Bush has fired Rumsfeld, put Petraeus in command, and sent in more troops. Maybe this new approach deserves a chance to work?

But, hey . . . look at
those polls! And those op-ed pages! You didn't come to Washington to support an unpopular president conducting an unpopular war. And the Bush administration is doing a crummy job of explaining this change in strategy. The path ahead in any case is going to be tough, and the new strategy might fail. Besides which, being for "escalation" sure doesn't sound good. Wasn't that a problem in Vietnam?

So you work on your talking points: You understand the president has a tough set of choices. You've got doubts about the path he's chosen. You've got lots of questions. But perhaps we should give it a chance . . .

But wait--that doesn't sound like leadership. That doesn't look decisive. And, if you're a Democrat--you didn't put in all that effort getting elected just so you could get a lot of grief from your own activists. If you're a Republican from a Democratic-leaning state--you didn't put in all those hours getting elected just so you could alienate the swing voters you need. So why not take the next step? Condemn the president's approach! There. That's a position.

...So the Boneless Wonders will push a nonbinding resolution to, as Joe Biden put it, "demonstrate to the president he's on his own." Sure, the resolution will weaken the president's hand abroad--but that's not their problem. It will lessen the chances of success in Iraq--but that's above their pay grade. It will dispirit friends and embolden enemies--but maybe there won't be much attention paid overseas to some non-binding congressional resolution. It will send the message to the soldiers fighting in Iraq that help is not on the way--that there are no reinforcements. That's unfortunate. But, hey--they volunteered.

Kristol underestimates Democratic duplicity. Help will be on the way... unfortunately, it will be tied up by "friends of the military" until it is too late to do any good:

With House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Emanuel plans to use Bush's Iraq speech to pose what amounts to a vote of "no confidence" in Bush's leadership -- framing the new strategy as a congressional motion and voting it up or down. Emanuel is certain that Bush's strategy will be voted down and that a sizable number of Republicans will join the Democrats in rejecting the military escalation. Rather than try to restrict funds for the troops (which he sees as a political blunder that would delight Republicans), Emanuel instead favors a proposal by Rep. John Murtha to set strict standards for readiness -- which would make it hard to finance the troop surge in Iraq without beefing up the military as a whole. The idea is to position the Democrats as friends of the military, even as they denounce Bush's Iraq policy.

And if Murtha gets his way, he will prevent about half the planned surge from deploying:

Given that violence is likely to escalate at least temporarily as the surge starts, that means Murtha is content to hang a reduced force out to dry without the manpower called for in the original plan.
Appearing on the same program, Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., chairman of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, said he would not limit funds for the troops already in Iraq, but would try to put language in the bill carrying supplemental funds for the war that could prevent the final two U.S. brigades going over in April and May.

As always, he can count on the media to continue their role as willing accomplices, reporting only half the story:

...the problem that I think here is that there are two kinds of stories about Iraq. There's the accountability story which we're all obsessed with covering. And the president's even added some fuel to the fire by admitting he made a mistake, although not delineating what those mistakes are. But then there is the success stories.

We're not writing those. We're not asking those hard questions. We're only talking about accountability. And again, it's the country that's paying.

Bush is leaving in two years, but we are still going to be in Iraq. We need to figure out a way to make this work.

What a shame that no one - no one in the Republican Congressional leadership, no one in the Democratic leadership, no one in the press, is willing to do what our troops are doing every single day: just put their heads down and get on board with whatever it takes to make this work. No one is even asking them to risk their own lives - just the lives of our military men and women.

Everyone - on both sides - admits it will be a disaster if we fail.

No one has a better idea.

Yet no one wants to do what it takes to succeed. Ace puts it pretty strongly:

The Democrats are now actually trading American lives for votes.

I don't know that I can disagree with him. In a war you either go in with everything you have or you fold and come home. Allowing our military to stay over there while undercutting their mission here at home to 'prove a point' strikes me as beyond reprehensible. Either fight the President all out openly and admit what you're doing and why you're doing it or get behind him and help win this war.

Period.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:47 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

January 12, 2007

The Hopeful vs. The Hopeless

After the President's historic speech Wednesday night, the media rushed to demonstrate they would pay any price and bear any burden to assure the defeat of his proposal. Those who expected some attempt at balance or open mindedness were sadly mistaken. CBS's Dick Meyer spent six or seven paragraphs ramming home the point: the President is completely alone. Newsweek's Howard Fineman couldn't quite manage to control his contempt, "George W. Bush spoke with all the confidence of a perp in a police lineup." Sheryl Stolberg seized the opportunity to remind readers the President was sElected, not elected before making a series of misleading statements:

By stepping up the American military presence in Iraq, President Bush is not only inviting an epic clash with the Democrats who run Capitol Hill. He is ignoring the results of the November elections, rejecting the central thrust of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group and flouting the advice of some of his own generals, as well as Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq."

"In a sense, it is a predictable path for Mr. Bush. This, after all, is the same president who lost the popular vote in 2000, was installed in the White House by a 5-to-4 vote of the Supreme Court and then governed as if he had won by a landslide. And this is the same president who, after winning re-election in 2004, famously told reporters that he had 'earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it.'"

Did Mr. Bush 'flout the advice' of the Iraqi Prime Minister? Not according to Mr. Maliki, but you'd never know that to read the Times. In their desperate effort to prevent a successful offensive against the insurgency the Times quotes, as is their wont, a variety of second-hand sources as proof the President is "Promising Troops Where They Aren't Really Wanted":

As President Bush challenges public opinion at home by committing more American troops, he is confronted by a paradox: an Iraqi government that does not really want them.

The Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has not publicly opposed the American troop increase, but aides to Mr. Maliki have been saying for weeks that the government is wary of the proposal. They fear that an increased American troop presence, particularly in Baghdad, will be accompanied by a more assertive American role that will conflict with the Shiite government’s haste to cut back on American authority and run the war the way it wants. American troops, Shiite leaders say, should stay out of Shiite neighborhoods and focus on fighting Sunni insurgents.

“The government believes there is no need for extra troops from the American side,” Haidar al-Abadi, a Parliament member and close associate of Mr. Maliki, said Wednesday. “The existing troops can do the job.”

Readers of the Times will please disregard what is already happening in Iraq. Never mind the fact that on January 7th - three days earlier - Mr. Maliki had, in fact, announced a new crackdown and voiced his determination not to let sectarian loyalties interfere with enforcement of the law.

But why should the Times be interested in telling its readers what Mr. Maliki actually had to say? That little bit of news, apparently, is not fit to print:

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who had been dropping hints he might resign because of sheer fatigue, now says he is committed to restoring Baghdad's sobriquet of Dar al-Salaam (The Abode of Peace) by clearing it of al Qaeda and Saddamite terrorists, militias and death squads.

"The plan that President Bush has announced is based on our plan," says Ali al-Dabbagh, al-Maliki's spokesman. "We presented it to him during the summit in Amman last month, and he promised to study it. The result is a joint Iraqi-American plan to defeat the terrorists."

It's interesting that the Times only quotes Iraqis when they are disparaging the war effort. Alaa of the Mesopotamian gives quite a different picture of what is happening in Iraq:

A meeting of the highest significance and importance has just taken place. Abdul Aziz Al-Hakim, though much reviled and hated by the SodomoLadinists et al, is undoubtedly the highest Shiite figure ever to meet the American leadership at the highest level. This meeting has very profound meaning and is a very important message to the various factions in Iraq. I refer you to my previous post titled “Flirting with Sayid Ali”. There are basically two camps in Iraq now. Not a Shiite Camp and A Sunni camp, but a camp for the new order including a majority of the Shiites, the Kurds, and many Sunnis (for example the tribes of the Anbar Salvation Council, and many, many other Sunnis), and another camp that is composed of sectarian factions totally opposed to Democracy and pluralism including anarchistic revenge groups and gangs of both sects. The first camp is by far the majority of the people.

The strategic instinct of President Bush is guiding him in the right direction again despite all the confusion and pressures. I have always said that it is necessary not to lose site of the fundamentals of a situation, never to jeopardize the strategic base for the sake of any temporary tactical maneuvers. It is not a question of taking sides in a sectarian struggle. It is question of knowing where one’s real popular base is; of knowing who has real interest in seeing the success of one’s strategic goals and objectives. Nothing encourages the enemy like seeing confusion and disorientation of the Western leadership; and nothing discourages him more than seeing resolve and commitment otherwise. The enemies have be tackled one a time, and opening many fronts at the same time should be avoided, a fairly obvious axiom which is so often forgotten. If a fight is necessary, so be it; one side has to emerge victorious. This will only take place when the backbone of the enemy is broken thoroughly and definitively. History teaches us this. America itself would not be the Great nation that it is today had it not been for the victories of the American Revolution, and the American Civil War. This is the eighty percent strategy, this is right. We shall have more to say later God’s willing.

Amir Taheri relates that unlike the US media, the reaction of Iraqis to the President's plan has been positive:

'A SIGH of relief!"

So one resident of Haifa Street, in the heart of Baghdad's badlands, reacted to the new plan to secure the Iraqi capital with the help of thousands of additional American troops.

"Maybe the Americans aren't running away after all," said the resident, a Sunni Arab, over the phone moments after President Bush unveiled his new plan. "The message seems to be that the United States will remain committed as long as Bush is in the White House."

Some 70 percent of Baghdad's violence is concentrated in five neighborhoods, where both Shiites and Sunnis have been the targets of rival death squads for months. Other Baghdadis say the population of those areas will greet the American troops with sweets and flowers.

The fear that the United States, bedeviled by internecine feuds, might cut and run has been at the root of the violence since Iraq's liberation in 2003.

Jihadists have fought not because they hope to win on the battlefield, but to strengthen the antiwar lobbies in the United States and Britain. Some in the new political elite have become fence sitters because they regard the United States as a fickle power that could suddenly change course. Others have created or expanded militias, in case the United States abandons Iraq before it can defend itself against internal foes and predatory neighbors.

The new Bush plan has raised Iraqi morale to levels not known for a year.

What a difference hope makes.

If only that sense of hope were felt here at home, instead of the paralyzing sense of fear and powerlessness which seems to grip the world's richest and most powerful nation. The Iraqis are a desperate people living in the shadow of horrible violence and brutality, and yet they dare to dream of a better tomorrow.

We live with the blessings of liberty and incredible abundance. And yet we cower in fear and despair and can imagine only defeat and humiliation.

The contrast is a stark one. It is one which ought to make us ashamed.

In his speech Wednesday night, the President called this war the ideological struggle of our time. The phrase deeply offended many in the America's half vast punditocracy as well it should, for it has implications they struggle mightily to avoid. Because they believe in nothing wholeheartedly, they do not wish to admit the existence of others who do believe: deeply, seriously, fanatically even, in an ideology which leaves no room for dissent, for doubt, for freedom of thought or action. Inexplicably, they prefer to close their eyes to the problem despite the repeated promises of these men that they will not stop until they have destroyed us.

Oddly enough, these men are not totally free from fear. A great haunting terror stalks their dreams at night, but it is not the fear of men who have openly sworn to kill them: men who saw the heads off still-living victims, men who fly planes into buildings full of innocent men, women and children or who strap bombs to young women and boys and send them off to kill and die in the name of Allah.

Who are these liberal protectors of our freedoms afraid of? George W. Bush, the worst dictator since Adolph Hitler, and the Christian right:

...the goal of the Christian right is "not simply conversion but also eventual recruitment into a political movement to create a Christian nation," where constitutional freedoms would be replaced by biblical law, as interpreted by evangelical leaders. Kennedy has been clear about this goal: "As the vice regents of God," the Florida-based minister has written, "we are to exercise godly dominion and influence over our neighborhoods, our schools, our government," as well as "our entertainment media, our news media, our scientific endeavors...."

Hedges carefully distinguishes this strand of Protestant Christian evangelicalism, known as "dominionism," from traditional fundamentalism, which "has not tried to transform government ... into an extension of the church." Under Christian dominion, Hedges writes, "Labor unions, civil rights laws and public schools will be abolished.... and all those deemed insufficiently Christian will be denied citizenship." The Christian right could come to power, he suggests, if we had "another catastrophic terrorist attack, an economic meltdown or huge environmental disaster." At that point, Hedges asserts, evangelical leaders such as Kennedy, Falwell and Robertson could be "calling for the punishment, detention and quarantining of gays and lesbians — as well as abortionists, Muslims and other nonbelievers." Thus, Hedges concludes, the United States today faces an internal threat analogous to that posed by the Nazis in Weimar Germany.

What is the solution to this horrible threat to tolerance and our beloved civil rights?

...Hedges concludes that the Christian right "should no longer be tolerated," because it "would destroy the tolerance that makes an open society possible." What does he think should be done? He endorses the view that "any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law," and therefore we should treat "incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal." Thus he rejects the 1st Amendment protections for freedom of speech and religion, and court rulings that permit prosecution for speech only if there is an imminent threat to particular individuals.

Fear is an interesting phenomenon. It has so many uses, you see.

In the days since 9/11 the Left has accused the Right of fear mongering, most often for simply pointing out that there really are people out there determined upon killing us. In some odd twist of logic however, the Left's constant references to Weimar Germany, Nazis, and jackbooted oppression should under no circumstances be construed as fear mongering any more than descriptions of the Vice President as someone who "always wants to kill" or references to White House counsel as "Freddy Kreuger" be taken as evidence that MSNBC commentary is anything other than sober, thoughtful, and unpartisan.

The President was more right than he knew Wednesday evening. We are engaged in the ideological struggle of our time. But a fundamental part of the larger war between Islamic extremism and democracy is the deepening rift between two diametrically opposed camps here at home: one supposedly gripped by one set of fears and the other by a far different boogeyman. The question is, which is more logical and which will prevail? The ostensibly tolerant side which views conservatism as an irrational mental state (via KJ) which can be "cured" by simply asking people to think logically?

Or the one which preaches that our own government and armed forces are a greater threat than the terrorists, yet derides its opponents for fear mongering and wants to prevent law enforcement from considering (among many others) the one known factor common to terrorist attacks which have already occurred on the grounds that it "might" be abused?

What is more rational and what should be weighed more seriously; the fear of potential abuses by those who have sworn to protect us or known threats from those who have sworn to destroy us?

And how insulting is it to patronize the police, firemen, and military who risk their lives daily to protect us by implying they have been forced to perform duties they willingly volunteered for? They are not children, dupes, or mindless automatons.

The words of our government's critics would carry considerably more weight if those who wail about the dangers posed by John Yoo, Dick Cheney, or George W. Bush actually stepped up to the plate to do something about the imminent dangers they believe are about to end democracy as we know it. But oddly, those who screech of fascism, police states and the death of liberty don't seem to be willing to risk a hair on their own heads to save the freedoms they profess to love. Inexplicably, their efforts are devoted to preventing those Americans who are willing to act on their beliefs from carrying out their voluntary wishes.

Lacking the courage of their own convictions, their shame drives them to prevent others from bringing about their vision of a better tomorrow. The sad thing is that, without men and women willing to fight and even die for their beliefs, these sunshine patriots would lack the freedom to carp and criticize and scream that they are being oppressed and silenced by a government which has, so far, completely ignored their childish tantrums.

Conservatism is neither a disease nor a mental deficiency. If it is driven by any fear it is the quite real recognition that there is evil in the world. But unlike the fear of their opponents, this fear is coupled with a determination to do something about the problem and the belief that with hard work, we can hand a better world to our children than the one we live in today:

...these groups have strikingly different outlooks on their lives and possibilities that go a long way toward explaining the differences in their political attitudes. Feelings about the power of the individual are a major factor in this division. Pro-Government Conservatives are defined, at least in part, by their optimism in this area. About three-quarters (76%) believe that most people can get ahead if they are willing to work hard ­ and two-thirds (66%) strongly express that view. An even higher percentage of Pro-Government Conservatives (81%) say that everyone has it in his or her own power to succeed.

Disadvantaged Democrats have a gloomier outlook. Just 14% think that people can get ahead by working hard; 79% say that hard work is no guarantee of success, and 76% express that view strongly. Only 44% of Disadvantaged Democrats say that everyone has the power to succeed, while slightly more (47%) take the fatalistic view that success in life is determined by forces outside one's own control.

This power - the power of belief in oneself - is the power that made America great. The defining struggle of our time may well be the struggle between the hopeful and the hopeless (and helpless). As always, the hopeful are fewer. But they are stronger and they are determined to succeed whatever the odds. Throughout history, more wars have been decided by sheer willpower than by any other single force.

What a sad, sad comment it would be if the world's largest superpower talked itself into failure, dragged down by the hopeless in its ranks. This has never been the American way, but in the increasingly egalitarian atmosphere of the 20th and 21st Centuries where greatness is viewed with envy and suspicion and equality of outcome is valued more highly than achievement, it is a strong possibility unless we stand firm.

Posted by Cassandra at 05:38 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

January 11, 2007

Why We Need A Line Item Veto

America, behold your handiwork:

Murtha told USA TODAY that he plans to use his subcommittee's control over the Pentagon budget to force a new direction in Iraq.

Specifically, Murtha, a former Marine and Vietnam War veteran from Pennsylvania, said he'll focus on the administration's supplemental spending request for Iraq, which is expected to be as high as $160 billion.

Murtha says he will hold extensive hearings on the budget request. "We're going to make them justify every cent," he said. He also said he may use the funding bill to hamstring the efforts to add more troops to Iraq.

Among the options Murtha said he's considering: barring the redeployment to Iraq of troops who haven't had the recommended one-year respite in the United States and prohibiting those who are in Iraq from having their tours of duty extended.

Murtha said that by inserting language into the administration's request for more money to fund the Iraq war, he can avoid a Bush veto. Murtha said legislation introduced Tuesday by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., that would require congressional approval of Bush's plan could be vetoed with little consequence. If Congress adds conditions to the Iraq funding bill, Bush will have to accept them or cut off money for the troops. "The supplemental is where the money is," Murtha said. "Nothing else means anything. They can veto anything else."

Yes, Hope Is On The Way. Wonder who gets to break the happy news to our troops serving in Iraq:

First, the surge. A popular fiction circulating in the press has the nation's military commanders all but unanimous in their opposition to sending more troops to Iraq--Exhibit's A, B, and C being General John Abizaid, General George Casey, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But the generals themselves are divided, with Lt. General David Petraeus and Lt. General Raymond Odierno on the other side. Further, none of these men are, strictly speaking, serving as ground commanders in Iraq. It is the rare field officer who will say, "I don't want any reinforcements," and, in fact, American brigade commanders in Iraq have been the chief behind-the-scenes authors of the surge.

No doubt these gentlemen will want to send their regards to Rep. Murtha personally.

Posted by Cassandra at 12:15 PM | Comments (31) | TrackBack

January 04, 2007

Food for Thought

Richard S. Lowry, whom you may remember from Marines in the Garden of Eden, emails:

Nice Guys Finish Last

How many armies do you know of throughout history who were not allowed to confine enemy combatants? How many Armies were not allowed to interrogate their prisoners? How many soldiers were not allowed to shoot at the enemy until shot at? How many leaders were under the scrutiny of a critical media and politicians who called them liars?

America, you are painting our young fighting men into a corner. America, you are running headlong toward defeat in our war on terror.

Our enemies our using our conscience and compassion against us. Our enemies our using our own media and political system against us. Our enemies will win this war not through a military victory. They will win, simply because we will give up.

Bringing our troops home from Iraq is exactly what our enemy wants. They want chaos to rein in the cradle of civilization. Bring our troops home from Iraq will solve nothing. Fighting will continue in the Horn of Africa, in Darfur, in The Philippines and in Northern Africa. Our enemy is advancing on many fronts and once their attention is no longer turned inward, they will accelerate the spread of their brand of terror.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:45 AM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

December 29, 2006

Gen. Mattis on Iraq

Judging from his recent comments, General Mattis clearly isn't clued into the latest leak of classified information from hardened combat insiders like Thomas Ricks. If he were, he wouldn't be spouting nonsense like this:

The situation in al-Anbar, which is the Marine area, it's a cancer on Iraq. ... But al-Anbar does not have the sectarian violence that the rest of the country has. It's the Sunni triangle. In fact, the only area that has any significant Shia in it is an area on the eastern side and we have no sectarian violence. Interestingly enough, it's an area with Sunni and Shia living side by side, and we have no significant violence, I couldn't tell you why.

Fallujah is considered to be so changed for the better that Sunni fleeing out of Baghdad are going to Fallujah now. Who would have thought that two years ago? It sounds almost bizarre.

What we are seeing now is a significant shift in the tribes. They are coming over. How does this manifest itself? How is it more than just my words? The Sunni sheiks are having their young guys join the Iraqi police. The reason is they will go to their local areas after they go to training academies in various countries outside of Iraq and they return, when they come back, they go back to their home areas.

So you've got the tribes shifting over, their kids joining the police. You've got the Iraqi army and the Iraqi security forces today, they are probably running around, about 52 percent of the casualties in our medical treatment facilities are Iraqi security forces. Which says something about the nature of the fight and the nature of the Iraqi troops who are now represented among the casualties. It's one way to indicate whether or not they are really in the fight or not.

So these are significant shifts right now. And the transition teams and the Marines who are over there, fighting in a very lethal area where the efforts have been unrelenting, have basically achieved successes that we would not have anticipated this early in this process.

Success??? What is this man smoking? Doesn't he read the NY Times? Everyone knows the war is "worse by every available measure"! But wait -- there's more of this madness:


if there's one point I would make strongly, it is this, Mark: that violence and progress can and do coexist. You see the blasts, you see the IEDs, you see the cameras on them out there. And that is a legitimate point.

But it is interesting to see in the background people driving by, looking at it the way we look at a car accident. Kids with backpacks on their backs walking by and looking at the blast site, but life is going on.

A third province today was just turned over to Iraqi control. Now that's not going to be happening in al-Anbar anytime soon; I don't want to put lipstick on a pig and say everything is hunky-dory, but that said, the tribes coming over, the transition of authority, the growing capability of Iraqi security forces in terms of police and army, that sort of thing, the conditions we are seeing over there are specifically that we are winning.

Now I realize that when you see the amount of violence going on and the amount of criminal activity going on, it's easy to just throw up your hands and say, 'Gosh, you know, this just isn't working,' or at best, 'We're going sideways, we're not going forward.'

But the fact is, this is hard stuff. A lot of hard work has been done, a lot of hard work remains, and if this is important, then we've got to do it. And the fact is that our troops coming home from overseas sense that they are part of something important and they are making progress.

Oh for Pete's sake. The next thing he's going to tell us is the the troops are happy:

...let me give you the story of one battalion because it kind of encapsulates what we are seeing with our most deployed units and units that frequently take, that always take the most casualties, the infantry battalions. I kind of use them as a canary in the mineshaft for this topic.

Second battalion, 5th Marines invited me up to speak at a birthday ball here, last November 10, in Las Vegas. Young battalion, infantry battalion, these are the young guys who go toe to toe, they go out hunting for the enemy. They don't sit inside Forward Operating Bases, they don't guard things, they're out on the roads.

They are going to Ramadi, the key terrain in Al-Anbar. Fallujah has always gotten a lot of press, and rightfully so, it's the scene of some rather murderous fighting, but al-Anbar's key terrain is the provincial capital of Ramadi. This battalion has been there before.

Their young men have re-enlisted at nearly double the rate that they were expected to. In other words, each unit has a certain number to give the commander an idea of what we need them to re-enlist at, and I think they doubled it, or very close to doubled it.

But more importantly, 170-odd Marines decided to extend their enlistment to return to Ramadi with their battalion. They aren't going to make the Marine Corps a career, they're going to get out and go to school and go on with their lives, but you can't buy that level of commitment, and this is not being done by a bunch of novices.

These are combat veterans who have been to Ramadi before, and know its alleyways and know the enemy in that area. These are not people who are unaware of the danger in a decision such as this.

So what we have is a force where we currently see the lowest rates of misconduct and desertion as long as we've been keeping the statistics. Spousal abuse is declining, going downward, drug abuse continues to hover at very, very low levels. Our re-enlistment rates are at all-time highs, and the quality of what we are bringing in to the re-enlisted force, if these are the Marines that are able to re-enlist, most of them are coming out of the top half of that cohort.

Further, our recruiters, many of them NCOs home from their second tour in Iraq, are going out and working upwards of 80- and 85-hour workweeks. But we have not had to lower our quality standards. The point I want to make here is: They are having to work much harder in order to get parent support for the enlistment, that sort of thing, but for some reason, we are able to maintain this very high quality force without any lowering of standards

Does this guy ever say anything negative? What about all this "we'll stand down as the Iraqis stand up" stuff.

I don't think we're at the point we need to be at. ... I think the cultural training, I mean we are so advanced from what we were doing three years ago, it's night and day, there's no comparison. We are doing much better now, but I will never be satisfied with it, is the bottom line. We will always be improving on it, the anthropological aspects of the preparation of the troops, where we will continue to be a priority, confident that we have prioritized it properly. We are fighting wars amongst the people. It's not industrial wars anymore and so you can never do enough.

It's all improving....

So why isn't all this "good news" getting out?

I was talking to a lieutenant in Haditha, he told me that because they are now all connected nowadays in their FOBs, he could read stories about Haditha. He said, 'I guarantee you there has not been a reporter in Haditha in my last two and a half months here.'

We're seeing, I think, an unwitting passing of the enemy's message, uncritical, unwitting passing of the enemy's message because the enemy has successfully denied the Western media access to the battlefields.

I'm not sure what Lloyds of London is charging now, I think it's over $5,000 a month insurance for a reporter or photographer to go in. But the murder, the kidnapping, the intimidation means that, in many cases, we have media folks who are relying on stringers who are Iraqi.

Now you can have any kind of (complaint) about the American media or Western media you want, but there is at least a nod, an effort toward objectivity. The stringers who are being brought in, who are bringing in these stories, are not bringing that same degree of objectivity.

So on the one hand, our enemy is denying our media access to the battlefield, where anything perhaps that I say as a general is subject to any number of interpretations, challenges, questions, but the enemy's story basically gets there without that because our media is unable to challenge them. It's unwitting, but at the same time, it can promote the enemy's agenda, simply because there is an apparent attempt at objectivity.

Sheesh. Can you believe this garbage? Now who are you going to trust - this yayhoo, or the word of a reliable anonymous source leaking classified material he swore never to divulge to the press on the condition that they conceal his identity, lest he be fired and prosecuted for breaking the law?

Yeah. I thought so. The man obviously doesn't know a thing about war. Now where are those Thomas Ricks and Carl Woodward articles, so I can read 'real Washington insiders' tell me how the White House doesn't listen to the Generals?

Posted by Cassandra at 12:00 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

The Faces Behind The War

Four a.m.

It's cold and dark outside my small home in western Maryland. The slap of the newspaper hitting the driveway briefly jolts me awake as I blearily stare at the monitor. Behind my office chair a small but determined Weiner Beast wreaks havoc on carefully arranged stacks of Christmas wrap and bows with a destructive force that rivals the most fiendish IED as, via OpFor, I read that last week David Ignatius tried to convey a sense of Christmas during wartime:

He begins with a nod to our good friend and oberbloggenfuhrer BlackFive, and mentions several other sites as well as milblogging.com. But he never seems to get what they're talking about. "Misery may love company," he writes, "but in the military, it keeps its mouth shut." Actually, no it doesn't. Throughout history the soldier's only right has been to complain, and he does it in a variety of ways. But he doesn't always complain; sometimes he pokes fun at his predicament. I suppose you have to be there-- or have been there--to understand. He continues:
"This holiday season, America is struggling through a searing national debate about Iraq. The horror of the war feels immediate, even to people who've never been near Baghdad, but less so the humanity of the thousands of American soldiers who are serving there. That's part of the Iraq disconnect: The war dominates our political life, but the men and women in the midst of it often are nearly invisible. We see them in thumbnail photos in group obituaries but not as real, living people."

That last seems something of an understatement. The press rarely show us anything so accurate - or as human - as a thumbnail photo. Our battle dead and wounded are not accorded the human dignity and respect their voluntary sacrifices deserve. Rather, their service is all too often hijacked by those who oppose everything they gave their lives for; just another obscene weapon in the media's constant efforts to prove this is a war we should not have fought.

The first rule of writing is to know your subject. The press fail to tell our story because, by and large, as an institution they have withdrawn from the arena. Where there were over 800 embeds at the beginning of the war, now roughly 1% of that number remain to cover a war the New York Times has called worse by every available measure. For reasons best known to them, the press have elected to cover the largest story of our time at secondhand using, not professional journalists but unnamed, uncredentialed, and untrained sources whose identity and loyalties, according to AP at least, are not open to question.

But behind the often slanted montage of murder, mayhem, miserable failure and simmering discontent served up daily by the media lies a far different picture hinted at by Ignatius' ignorance of what every military person knows: complaining is less a sign of discontent than a normal pastime during both peacetime and war. We do it in the chow line, during PT, while standing in line at the PX, and we laugh insanely when the New York Times serves up the grumblings of yet another Lance Corporal (often as not laughably mislabeled as an "officer") as evidence that the military is dangerously close to mutiny.

But what do we know? Anyone who questions the media's conventional wisdom about the war is accused of having an agenda, as though somehow the hundreds of thousands of military men and women (not to mention their families) who have volunteered to serve on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan know less about what is going on over there than the members of the press who tell us they can't cover the war because conditions make it "too dangerous" to venture out of their hotel rooms.

It's true: there is danger over there. Whenever anyone in or out of the military dares to question press coverage of the war, we are huffily reminded how many journalists have been wounded or lost their lives in this conflict. We understand, because for every member of the media who has died, literally thousands more of us have made the ultimate sacrifice. It's just that we don't consider that risk a good enough reason to prevent us from doing our jobs and to be fair, very likely many reporters wouldn't either. Many would embed in a heartbeat if their management would support them. What does it say about the values of the media establishment that they fought for the right to embed with the military yet refuse to cover the war at firsthand because they refuse to share the risks with their own countrymen? What does it say when citizen journalists and bloggers like Michael Yon and Bill Roggio have paid their own way to cover the biggest event of our time, yet America's biggest newspapers not only decline the honor but sneer at those who take up the gauntlet in their absence?

And what of the faces behind the war? Why are we always shown victims and whiners rather than those who are doing good?

Carrie Constantini, a Marine wife and mother to a young Marine who worked with Operation Santa this year visited Ward 57 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center where some of our most severely wounded troops are recovering from their injuries, but oddly she didn't find a morass of miserable failure and despair. No doubt this is why the Washington Post (my hometown paper) had no interest in this local story - just as they refused to cover Project Valour IT when I called and tried to interest them in it - but the British BBC was all over it:

"It's very surprising ...The spirit is upbeat, the spirit is positive. I spoke with a young soldier:

"I'm so sorry that you have to be in the hospital on Christmas. But he smiled and said, "But I get to have another Christmas!"

"If they can be positive, well we can be positive too."

In addition to her work with Operation Santa, Carrie volunteers with the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund which assists wounded Marines and members of other services injured while supporting Marine units, (and their families) with expenses related to supporting their wounded hero.

Chuck Ziegenfuss, too, was walking the wards during Christmas. Chuck has his own story to tell - his own wounds led to the formation of Project Valour IT, a grassroots effort by milbloggers to provide voice activated software and laptops to severely injured troops during their recovery period, keeping their morale up and allowing them to stay in touch with friends, family, and their buddies still in the line of fire.

Chuck, too, found no lack of spirit in the wounded wards:

I met with Specialist Bruce Dunlap. Bruce is assigned to 1st platoon, A Battery, 1st Battalion 125th Field Artillery [yeah, baby!] Strike out of Combat Support Center Scania.

He was hit by an IED while on a route clearance mission. This particular IED was a “Hezbollah IED,” a type of IED designed to produce an explosively shaped projectile; much like the High-Explosive Anti-Tank rounds on the Abrams Tank. These are particularly nasty, and designed to defeat armored vehicles. They get their name because they first appeared in Israel, attacking the IDF. They are becoming more frequent, despite the fact that the often don’t kill the occupants of the up-armored-HMMWV’s.

Bruce had both arms and legs wrapped from digits to trunk. He was pretty excited about the Valour-IT laptops, and really excited about this post and picture, because as he put it:

“I hope the enemy does read your blog. They’ll see me and it’ll be a great big “Up yours! You missed, you failed, I’m still here!”

Wounded, bedridden, and still trying to take the fight to the enemy.

And then there are the families of war, the mothers and fathers who patiently wait for that phone call, that letter or email that lets them know their son or daughter is still all right. It is their faith that moves mountains, and their love and courage that have carried this nation for over 200 years:

I remember like it was yesterday when our young Marine came marching out on the parade deck of Parris Island sporting a brand new chevron proclaiming him a PFC in the United States Marine Corps! A merit stripe earned in the sand fleas and swamps of South Carolina. God how proud I was. I bet I stood a full two inches taller. His Mom squeezing my hand harder as his Training Battalion passed the stands. The tears of pride I enjoyed wiping from her cheeks. The virality, the strength, a man where a boy should stand. It was all there.

From that day forward our home became a staging area of sorts for the next four years and even now. Young Marines we met on that very same Parade Deck stopping in on their way one place or another knowing they would get a home cooked meal and lodging with others of their kind. After SOI they came in bunches, full of themselves, cocky, with the innate ability to use the F word as a noun, adjective, verb, adverb. All in the same sentence! Vulgar? Not for a minute. These are young men that enlisted in a time their country is at war, knowing full well what they were facing and where they were headed. They are young men "with the bark" on as the saying goes from my generation. Respectful to Mom and Sis to the max, loving them after minutes of meeting them. You could see the protection trait in them even then. The seriousness they held in their minds of what they were doing was embodied in their Moms and Sisters, Girlfriends and Fiancees, Wives and Daughters. A finer lot of young fire eaters you could never imagine!

What a difference three combat tours make. There is the weariness of too many death notices, too many faces who will never, now, drop by for a beer and a few laughs. And yet through the tears there is still hope and an abiding belief in the values that make this country great, in why we fight:

There he is. Stepping off that damn slow bus. You can see the death in his eyes from where you stand. The Stare. The flatness and lack of emotion shines from the depths of what used to be the light. You take in everything at a glance. The skinny form where the beef used to be. The scars already healed. The stiffness of his walk and the sheer power that exudes from him. The unbelievable animal magnetism that screams his manhood. You take that in as you watch his Mom and Sis attack him in a hug. There was a tiny flicker of light forming his his eyes when he first spied them that has now become a full glow that threatens to light up the night. Happiness for the first time in awhile envelops him. You worry that that deadness will return and has it entered his very soul. Thoughts only of a dad. But that light! Ah, you know he will heal, you know he stands true, you know he is loved, and love heals all!

But most of all, you stand there while the women folk fuss over him and notice the numbers missing. You notice the ones that aren't here. You witness the ones that he saw last as he put them in the MEDEVAC broken and bleeding surround him and shout to the rooftops with hilarity. You see the bond of real men and real brotherhood staring at you in the face. You stand there and remember that Pride from Parris Island and it washes over you anew! Then it is your turn and that young Marine walks up to you, shakes your hand looking you dead in the eye, and tells you he is home. There are no words to describe the Pride a dad has for his Son at that time. No words can do it justice. The pain he knows I carry for his Fallen Brothers because he carries it too. Were it I could carry his burdens and he understands. The meeting of a dad and his Son. The same as it's been throughout history. Two men that believe in one another.

Yeah, half the folks in this great nation that these young men and women sacrifice for will never, ever "get it". I will also never, ever stand down in their stead either. My strength is much greater than theirs. Mine was forged in the fires of Hell! Their's given them by men and women they will never understand.

This is the strength of the good earth, of the South: vital, warm, alive. And yet far to the North there is strength of another kind on display; fragile, like a damascene blade. The kind that may bend under terrible strain but will never break:

Any day now, Erica Booth’s world will change again.

Nearly three months after the love of her life died fighting in Iraq, the 21-year-old Dighton mom is having a baby boy. Her heartache will turn to joy, but not fully and not forever, because Tristan Joshua will never know his dad.

“It’s bittersweet. Tristan is definitely a symbol of a new beginning. Josh and I had a separate life and now the kids and I are starting one,” said Booth, who is nine months pregnant and mother to their 16-month-old daughter, Grace.

First Lt. Joshua L. Booth, 23, of Sturbridge, a platoon leader in the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, Echo Company, was in Iraq barely a month when he was killed by a sniper’s bullet.

She remembers the e-mails he sent before he died. “He had been calling him Tristan. He e-mailed me asking me if I’m feeling all right and if Tristan was playing soccer in my belly at night,” Booth said, recalling that when she was pregnant with Grace, her kicking woke up her husband.

But Storey, who knew her husband for eight years, said she feels lucky she had as much time with him as she did.

“If anything, (the time together) makes me happy,” she said. “My husband was fortunate enough to have two kids to leave behind a piece of us, of our relationship, of our marriage. I feel blessed.”

Blessed. It is not this dear lady who is blessed. It is the nation her husband and she live in. May we never forget this. Far to the west on the other coast, a young man ponders what he will do with the precious gift of freedom:

I'm the kind of guy who's not supposed to be joining the military these days. I grew up in an affluent community. I attend a first-tier private university. I'm fortunate to have many career and personal options.

Several months ago, I was accepted for the Marines' Platoon Leaders Class (PLC), a two-summer program leading to commission as a second lieutenant upon graduation. I'd like to explain a little about why and what it means to me.

Although I've been curious about the military for years, and knew several guys from high school who joined the Navy, went to West Point, or were planning on PLC, I talked about my own interest seldom. Now I wonder how many kids might have considered it seriously, if talk had been more open.

When I got to college, I found that most of my new friends and a lot of the people I respect are military. As former high-school jocks (mostly football and lacrosse), we value camaraderie, discipline and challenge and a lot of men and women certainly join for those reasons. But we're also united by patriotism.

Not the flag-waving, ready-to-die kind. Just a quiet sense that we have a responsibility as citizens to serve, and the fact that there's no draft doesn't change that. Freedom is a debt that we're always paying interest on.

And in a quiet office in western Maryland a very tired and sad Marine wife is trying to make sense of the news that Petty Officer Kirby, a Navy Corpsman she wrote about just one month ago, has been wounded by sniper fire. Petty Officer Kirby is one of the faces who haunt me:

Petty Officer Third Class Dustin E. Kirby clutched the injured marine’s empty helmet. His hands were coated in blood. Sweat ran down his face, which he was trying to keep straight but kept twisting into a snarl.

He held up the helmet and flipped it, exposing the inside. It was lined with blood and splinters of bone.

“The round hit him,” he said, pausing to point at a tiny hole that aligned roughly with a man’s temple. “Right here.”

Petty Officer Kirby, 22, is a Navy corpsman, the trauma medic assigned to Second Mobile Assault Platoon of Weapons Company, Second Battalion, Eighth Marines. Everyone calls him Doc. He had just finished treating a marine who had been shot by an Iraqi sniper.

“It was 7.62 millimeter,” he continued. “Armor piercing.”

He reached into his pocket and retrieved the bullet, which he had found. “The impact with the Kevlar stopped most of it,” he said. “But it tore through, hit his head, went through and came out.”

He put the bullet in his breast pocket, to give to an intelligence team later. Sweat kept rolling off his face, mixed with tears. His voice was almost cracking, but he managed to control it and keep it deep. “When I got there, there wasn’t much I could do,” he said.

Then he nodded. He seemed to be talking to himself. “I kept him breathing,” he said.

What can we know, any of us, really, of the face of war? As a writer I grapple with it daily. As a Marine wife and mother I am horrified by it. As an American I both have nightmares about it and yet will never waver in my support:

I hate this war.

There is not a day that goes by, I don't think, when I don't think about how much I hate it, and the immense, soul-shattering suffering it has caused.

But do not mistake me for one instant, my support has never wavered.

Three nights ago in my dream, all I remember is feeling like a giant hand had squeezed my heart and all the air had suddenly been sucked out of my lungs, leaving me leaden and empty. I wanted to sink into the earth and let it swallow me forever.

Reading about Captain Peterson's funeral, I was suddenly swept back in time to the day the war became real for me; to a tiny chapel in southern California. To the sight of Marines I was used to seeing laughing, joking around in the gym, always cocky, full of themselves, suddenly overcome with grief.

Struggling not to break down.

And in my ears is the sound of a song that for years was associated with smoky barrooms and pool tables and laughter and a suddenly caught hand and a warm embrace:

Looking back on the memory of
The dance we shared
Beneath the stars above
For a moment
All the world was right
How could I have known
You'd ever say goodbye

And now I'm glad I didn't know
The way it all would end
The way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance
I could have missed the pain
But I'd have had to miss
The dance...

I can never hear that song now without tears springing to my eyes.

Because the image that is indelibly burned into my retinas is that of a Marine widow, lovely, fragile yet steely strong, bending over her husband's body. Fussing one last time with his dress blues, adjusting the damned stiff collar that never will lie just right. I have done that so many times....

And then gently kissing him and lowering the casket door.

Goodbye my love.

Goodbye.

Some people will never understand the gift of freedom. Not what they died for, but what these men and women lived for. But I do.

I do.

This is for you, Mr. Ignatius.

And for you, Petty Officer Kirby. Words are so inadequate, and perhaps for all of us this war is seen through a different lens.

But this is how it seems to this Marine wife.

Please open your hearts:

Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund

Project Valour IT Fund

Posted by Cassandra at 06:06 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

December 19, 2006

Why Colin Powell Is Impractical...

...and why he ought to know better:

Former secretary of state Colin L. Powell said yesterday that the United States is losing what he described as a "civil war" in Iraq and that he is not persuaded that an increase in U.S. troops there would reverse the situation. Instead, he called for a new strategy that would relinquish responsibility for Iraqi security to the government in Baghdad sooner rather than later, with a U.S. drawdown to begin by the middle of next year.

Powell's comments broke his long public silence on the issue and placed him at odds with the administration. [Ed. note: 'At odds with the administration?' There's a shocker for you, though what 'long public silence' this reporter can be referring to is something of a mystery.] President Bush is considering options for a new military strategy -- among them a "surge" of 15,000 to 30,000 troops added to the current 140,000 in Iraq, to secure Baghdad and to accelerate the training of Iraqi forces, as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and others have proposed; or a redirection of the U.S. military away from the insurgency to focus mainly on hunting al-Qaeda terrorists, as the nation's top military leaders proposed last week in a meeting with the president.

"I agree with the assessment of Mr. Baker and Mr. Hamilton," Powell said, referring to the study group's leaders, former secretary of state James A. Baker III and former Indiana congressman Lee H. Hamilton (D). The situation in Iraq is "grave and deteriorating, and we're not winning, we are losing. We haven't lost. And this is the time, now, to start to put in place the kinds of strategies that will turn this situation around."

So let's get this straight. For months now, US forces in Iraq have been in the process of standing down - a virtual, if not a physical redeployment. On the domestic front the signals we've sent the Iraqis were clear and unequivocal: America is divided and dispirited. The resulting uptick in violence was timed to coincide with our election cycle; the insurgents successfully discouraged a majority of Americans from believing we should stay the course and ensure stability and democratic governance in Iraq.

The results? Nothing succeeds like success. The insurgency has been encouraged to increase its efforts. They read our newspapers. They know we're not serious about preventing them from seizing power.*** Various factions are now fighting for supremacy; aided and abetted in this endeavor by whom? Iran and Syria, who have a vested interest in seeing the United States distracted and humiliated.

And what is Colin Powell's analysis of the situation?

1. Our current policy isn't working because we have too few troops on the ground. Wunderbar. So we shouldn't continue on our present course.

2. Since disengaging and drawing down have been such an overwhelming success so far, the only obvious answer is to further decrease the US presence! Let's not examine too closely the question of just why insurgent factions are fighting (Gosh - could it be to gain control of the government?). And let's not look at who is supporting them, or what their motives might be.

3. The undeniable fact that Iran and Syria are currently arming the insurgents and have no interest in helping us achieve our goals presents no logical reason to believe they won't help us if we ask nicely. After all, we all have to talk to people we don't like. This was such a head exploder that in the interests of preserving my own sanity, I am going to ignore it entirely and go back to discussing item #2.

If the Iraqis can't control the violence now with our help, could it be that if we withdraw there will be no one to oppose the insurgents? Don't you think they will seize control, making the votes of the Iraqis and the deaths of almost 3000 American servicemen and women meaningless?

Never mind the fact that it was the opinion of the military advisors to the Iraq Study Group that their rapid withdrawal plan was a recipe for disaster:

Ever since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the United States has struggled in vain to tamp down the violence in Iraq and to build up the capacity of Iraq’s security forces. Now the study group is positing that the United States can accomplish in little more than one year what it has failed to carry out in three.

In essence, the study group is projecting that a rapid infusion of American military trainers will so improve the Iraqi security forces that virtually all of the American combat brigades may be withdrawn by the early part of 2008.

Never mind that it is the military themselves who have asked for more troops. What do they know? They're just the folks on the ground. Mr. Powell has questions. Well, so do we all:

The summer's surge of U.S. troops to try to stabilize Baghdad failed, he said, and any new attempt is unlikely to succeed. "If somebody proposes that additional troops be sent, if I was still chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, my first question . . . is what mission is it these troops are supposed to accomplish? . . . Is it something that is really accomplishable? . . . Do we have enough troops to accomplish it?"

I am not necessarily in favor of sending troops just to send troops. I tend to suspect ideas that suddenly come into fashion and sweep Washington. Earlier it was "listen to the Generals!". Of course, the burning question of the day always becomes, which Generals do you listen to? Currently Generals Casey and Abizaid are being bad-mouthed. The Conventional Wisdom crowd are calling for their heads; they are "tired" - it is "time for them to go". One might lend the CW some credence on the basis of results if one were inclined to think our military had had an entirely free hand over there, but given the capricious nature of the political howling on Capitol Hill, it is best viewed with some suspicion.

Nonetheless, Powell asks some good questions. Some are answerable, some perhaps not.

What are the troops supposed to accomplish? That's pretty straightforward: get the security situation in Baghdad under control. The only question here is whether we will allow them to do that.

Is is accomplishable? Let's look at Powell's logic: if securing Baghdad is not accomplishable with 35,000 US troops, how does it make sense for us to withdraw by mid-2007? How, exactly, does he expect the Iraqi forces to maintain order if we can't do it? What will happen if there is a bloodbath? Does he really think we won't have to go back in? What dream world is he living in?

Here are a few questions for Mr. Powell:

He mentions that this summer's surge of troops was a failure. Was it anything on the order of 35,000? Is that even comparable in scale to what is being proposed now? Why is he so sure that a concerted effort from us (for once) won't break the back of the insurgency?

But the coup de gras has got to be this statement:

Before any decision to increase troops, he said, "I'd want to have a clear understanding of what it is they're going for, how long they're going for.

De-lightful. De-lovely. And it all sounds so obvious when he states it that way. So logical, almost Kerryesque in its almost professorial approach to world affairs. Of course, we knew that, just as we knew the Coalition would have been so much stronger with the troops and financial support that France and Germany had absolutely no intention of providing to us.

But what war, in the entire history of mankind, has ever been fought like that?

When do we EVER know the end date?

Wars are political endeavors, and anyone who tries to pretend they are cut and dried set pieces played out on the battlefield isn't thinking straight. War is politics by other means and warfighters, like it or not, serve at the pleasure of their civilian leaders. They know that, going in. They serve to enforce the foreign policy objectives of the nation they fight for and foreign policy objectives are fluid and change in response to events we can neither anticipate nor control.

We're not going to know, in advance, "exactly how long we're going in for". That is ridiculous, just more of Powell's woolgathering disguised as stunning feats of insight.

I don't want to lose my husband. I haven't wanted to lose anyone during this overlong war. But I am sick, sick to death, of people's muddle headed longing for certainty in an essentially uncertain business. I'm scared too, and weary, and sad - sadder than I can express sometimes - but for God's sake get a grip. Ask the questions if you must.

But let's be realistic about what we're doing and why, and what the decision space is here. It's not infinite.

***and by this, I mean our long-term political will, not the will or the ability of our military, to whom I mean no disrespect

Posted by Cassandra at 05:08 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

December 11, 2006

War, Through A Child's Eyes

Now that I work, I find I don't enjoy the yearly round of shopping, baking, decorating, and holiday parties as much as I used to. Too many 'to-do' items crammed into too few hours often leave me feeling more frantic than festive, and visions of sugarplums are displaced by shopping lists during those all too short winter nights before the alarm clock summons me to another round of holiday mayhem. At first, last Friday night seemed no different. I sat curled up on the sofa; a glass on wine in one hand and before me a stack of boxes full of Christmas cards, their envelopes hand-lettered with studious care:

"Fellow American"
"Happy Holidays!"
"Dear Soldier"
"USA Army"
"Troopers!"
"Dear Fellow Human"
"Dear Friend"
"Hello military person!"
...and the number one choice of first grade boys (often with a flag or other patriotic emblem): "Go USA!"

Then there was my favorite in the bunch:

"Hellooooooo Troop!"

I had before me the work of grades K-5 of my daughter in law's elementary school destined for Operation Santa. My task for the evening, to read each one before sending them on to the next step in their journey: Carrie Constantini, who would make sure they got to their final destination.

After three years of writing about the global war on terror my faith, once almost boundless, had been at a low ebb. But as I sipped my glass of wine and read I began to smile, then to chuckle softly, then finally I was laughing out loud. Recently, Hillary Clinton took it on herself, out of her vast military experience, to advise General John Abizaid that "Hope is not a method" for winning wars.

The General responded:

“I would also say that despair is not a method.”

“When I come to Washington, I feel despair. When I’m in Iraq with my commanders, when I talk to my soldiers and Iraqi leadership, they are not despairing,”

Neither, apparently, are the children of this nation. Somehow they have managed to resist the waves of negativity emanating from Capitol Hill. As I opened card after card, messages of hope, faith, and reassurance came through loud and clear whether from tiny tots barely able to eke out a few letters or 5th graders who wrote lovely (and often literate) notes to our men and women in uniform:

"Thank you for all you do."

"Thanks so much for keeping us safe. I hope we win."

"Thank you for protecting our country."

"Win this war for us!"

"Go USA!"

"Stay safe!"

"You are very brave to fight for us."

Sometimes the message was very simple, like this one from a 5 year old:

"We love you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

Of course, where there are children, there are questions. Lots of questions:

"Dear Troopers:

I wonder how you do all that fighting? Do people from other countrys come and fight you when you are sleeping?"

"What is your favorite book? What is your job in the military?"
Do you have a dog? Do you miss your Mom?
Do you like to wear suits?
"Are you scared? If I were fighting a war, I would be scared. I hope you are not scared and I hope that you come back soon."
"Can you read my handwriting? If not then I am writing to nobody."

Some told "their soldier" about their lives and asked for details in return, adding "please write back!". One boy displayed a touching regard for the privacy of his pen pal, adding that he'd like to have all his questions answered, but only "if it's not too personal". Some added their own special touches: one boy closed his card with the note, "Here is a little poem I wrote myself...Just to get you through the day." Another added a quote from Oscar Wilde. A girl made tons of extra homemade cards - a labor of love.

It is odd, on a winter's night, to look at war through the eyes of a child. To see what we adults have made so unbearably complex, reduced once more to first principles. Whose side are we on? Who do we want to win? Do we even want to win this war? A frequent (and wistful) thought, expressed in many ways but running like a constant thread through the holiday wishes sent to our troops was:

"Fight hard! We appreciate all you do. Please win this war for us."

"It would be nice to win."

Yes it would. It would be nice to win.

Go USA! And thank you. Thank you for all you do. We love you.

Posted by Cassandra at 05:18 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

December 04, 2006

All Of A Sudden, "Stay The Course" Not So Stupid?

What a difference a few days can make in the 'conventional wisdom'. After literally years of derisory mocking, the New York Times seems to have had an epiphany:


In the cacophony of competing plans about how to deal with Iraq, one reality now appears clear: despite the Democrats’ victory this month in an election viewed as a referendum on the war, the idea of a rapid American troop withdrawal is fast receding as a viable option.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff are signaling that too rapid an American pullout would open the way to all-out civil war. The bipartisan Iraq Study Group has shied away from recommending explicit timelines in favor of a vaguely timed pullback. The report that the panel will deliver to President Bush next week would, at a minimum, leave a force of 70,000 or more troops in the country for a long time to come, to train the Iraqis and to insure against collapse of a desperately weak central government.

Even the Democrats, with an eye toward 2008, have dropped talk of a race for the exits, in favor of a brisk stroll.

And conservatives, who just a few short weeks ago were whining that the President was "going wobbly on Iraq", finally decided that (wonder of wonders!) maybe Bush has meant what he's been saying all along:

While George W. Bush's many critics and detractors portray him as facing the same dilemma as Lyndon Johnson in Vietnam, Bush himself seems determined to proceed the way Harry Truman did in Korea -- or, as some might put it, as Winston Churchill did after Dunkirk.

Leading Democrats like Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan have been calling for troop pullouts from Iraq starting in four to six months. The Iraq Study Group co-chaired by James Baker and Lee Hamilton, The New York Times tells us, will recommend a "gradual pullback" of troops, direct negotiations with Iran and Syria and pressure on Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians.

But Bush seems unpersuaded. "There's one thing I'm not going to do," he said at last week's NATO summit in Riga, Latvia. "I'm not going to pull our troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete."

In this, Bush has the support of others. Defense Secretary-designate Robert Gates opposes a quick pullout. So does the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Central Command's Gen. John Abizaid.

They never learn.

Posted by Cassandra at 09:05 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

November 16, 2006

Iraq: The Road Ahead

Yesterday while stuck in Beltway traffic the half vast editorial staff survived another close encounter with the Senate Armed Services Committee courtesy of National Public Radio. The readership will no doubt be relieved to learn that owing to a suspicious dearth of DimWitted bumperstickerage on our nation's highways, yesterday's experience will not be producing one of our epic rants.

The hearings themselves presented a perfect microcosm of the debate over where we are in Iraq, what went wrong, and where to go from here. In many ways they were the war on the home front in small: rife with truisms and trite oversimplifications cited by those on both sides of the political aisle with axes to grind, most of which were patiently batted down time and time again by tired men brought in to face a mix of mostly hostile, but at times sympathetic questions from people who want simple answers to complex problems.

The problem is that in most cases there aren't any, and the few answers that are simple are unpalatable.

THE CURRENT SITUATION

George Friedman gives a cogent summary of the current situation in Iraq:


Essentially, U.S. strategy in Iraq is to create an effective coalition government, consisting of all the major ethnic and sectarian groups. In order to do that, the United States has to create a security environment in which the government can function. Once this has been achieved, the Iraqi government would take over responsibility for security. The problem, however, is twofold. First, U.S. forces have not been able to create a sufficiently secure environment for the government to function. Second, there are significant elements within the coalition that the United States is trying to create who either do not want such a government to work -- and are allied with insurgents to bring about its failure -- or who want to improve their position within the coalition, using the insurgency as leverage. In other words, U.S. forces are trying to create a secure environment for a coalition whose members are actively working to undermine the effort.

The core issue is that no consensus exists among Iraqi factions as to what kind of country they want. This is not only a disagreement among Sunnis, Shia and Kurds, but also deep disagreements within these separate groups as to what a national government (or even a regional government, should Iraq be divided) should look like. It is not that the Iraqi government in Baghdad is not doing a good job, or that it is corrupt, or that it is not motivated. The problem is that there is no Iraqi government as we normally define the term: The "government" is an arena for political maneuvering by mutually incompatible groups.

Until the summer of 2006, the U.S. strategy had been to try to forge some sort of understanding among the Iraqi groups, using American military power as a goad and guarantor of any understandings. But the decision by the Shia, propelled by Iran, to intensify operations against the Sunnis represented a deliberate decision to abandon the political process. More precisely, in our view, the Iranians decided that the political weakness of George W. Bush, the military weakness of U.S. forces in Iraq, and the general international environment gave them room to reopen the question of the nature of the coalition, the type of regime that would be created and the role that Iran could play in Iraq. In other words, the balanced coalition government that the United States wanted was no longer attractive to the Iranians and Iraqi Shia. They wanted more.

The political foundation for U.S. military strategy dissolved. The possibility of creating an environment sufficiently stable for an Iraqi government to operate -- when elements of the Iraqi government were combined with Iranian influence to raise the level of instability -- obviously didn't work. The United States might have had enough force in place to support a coalition government that was actively seeking and engaged in stabilization. It did not have enough force to impose its will on multiple insurgencies that were supported by factions of the government the United States was trying to stabilize.

By the summer of 2006, the core strategy had ceased to function.

The implications of Friedman's analysis are striking:

1. Currently the US is caught in a chicken-or-the-egg conundrum: a precondition for handing over security to the Iraqis is the establishment of a sufficiently secure environment that the Iraqi coalition government can function, yet members of that coalition are actively fomenting civil unrest in hopes of furthering their own agendas.

2. US forces may have been sufficient to maintain order if the Iraqi coalition government were working together, but the perceived political weakness of George Bush and the US military allowed Iran to split the coalition and entice the Iraqi Shia into abandoning a political solution.

What does item number two tell us about the effects of dissent in wartime? Earlier this year there was some good discussion about the limits of dissent here, here, and here. Sadly, in the current political environment any responsible discussion of whether citizens of a free society have any duty to consider the consequences of their words during wartime is inevitably greeted with hysterical accusations of goosestepping all over the First Amendment. Ironically, it is the advocates of free speech themselves who seek to declare the topic of responsible speech "off limits" with their talk of swift boating, questioning of patriotism, and chickhawks rather than facing it honestly. These are not rational responses to a serious question, but covert ad hominem attacks designed to divert attention from a very real consequence of their dissent: that it is, in fact, demonstrably useful to our enemies whether or not they intend it to be. We know this for a fact: they openly make use of it in their propapaganda broadcasts and recruiting efforts. And yet, to mention this obvious truth is somehow considered hitting 'below the belt'.

Friedman's point about Iran having driven a wedge into the Iraqi coalition government was taken up by Senator Joe Lieberman during the Committee hearings yesterday. Lieberman came to the relief of embattled General John Abizaid, who had been facing a torrent of questions from Senator John McCain, who favors sending an additional 20,000 troops into Iraq:


Under hard questioning from McCain, Abizaid spoke frankly about the stress on U.S. forces, which he said constrains any major troop increase. "We can put in 20,000 more Americans tomorrow and achieve a temporary effect. But when you look at the overall American force pool that's available out there, the ability to sustain that commitment is simply not something that we have right now with the size of the Army and the Marine Corps," he said. He later told a House panel that exceeding current troop levels would place "a tremendous strain" on the Army.

McCain, who favors a significant boost in U.S. forces, quizzed Abizaid on why more troops have not been sent to the Sunni insurgent stronghold of Anbar province, where U.S. casualties are among the highest in Iraq and Marine commanders say they lack sufficient forces.

"I regret deeply that you seem to think that the status quo and the rate of progress we're making is acceptable. I think most Americans do not,"

Abizaid sees things differently:

The general also discouraged calls for a timetable to withdraw. Abizaid, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, said the security situation in Iraq is improving -- and he does not see a need for more U.S. combat troops.

Abizaid told the Senate Armed Service Committee that a key to success in Iraq is to increase the size of the Iraqi forces, not U.S. troops. He said the Iraqis have to do it for themselves. "I believe in my heart of hearts that the Iraqis must win this battle with our help," Abizaid says. "We can win with the Iraqis if we put our effort into the Iraqis as our first priority, and that's what I think we should do."

Abizaid proposed beefing up the size of the American training teams. There are now about 4,000 soldiers and Marines taking part in the training effort, mostly in 11-man teams. That action alone, he says, may temporarily boost the level of U.S. forces, now at 152,000.

There are about 315,000 Iraqi security forces that the Pentagon says are trained and equipped. But commanders on the ground say Iraqi units are undermanned and not well equipped. And in some cases, they have been infiltrated by sectarian militias.

Abizaid said violence has eased somewhat, and American and Iraqi troops are working closely together. He also told the senators that the Iraqi government must reach out to the Sunni minority and curb militia groups.

Hayden, director of the CIA, was more pessimistic than Abizaid about the prospects for ending the violence. But strikingly he was no less adamant that this was a struggle we cannot afford to lose, and he also concurred with Abizaid that in the end, the Iraqis would be the decisive factor, saying that 'in the end, victory must have an Iraqi and not an American face'. Hayden's prepared statement to the Committee lays out the stakes compellingly:

An al-Qa’ida victory in Iraq would mean a fundamentalist state that shelters jihadists and serves as a launching pad for terrorist operations throughout the region—and in the United States.

Under questioning by Senator Lieberman, Hayden also made another interesting comment. In a line of questioning clearly aimed at the Iraq Study Group, Lieberman asked about the presence of Iranian agents in Iraq. Hayden characterized their aims as clearly antithetical to ours and their presence as "extremely deleterious" to establishing a democratic government and getting the violence under control. In his opinion, their desire was to establish a Shia-run government rather than one in which power was democratically shared.

THE WAY FORWARD

After five years of being the Party in Opposition, of complaining that Donald Rumsfeld and the White House refused to listen to the generals, the big question that ought to be looming in the minds of Americans is, now that they're in power, will the Democratic Party listen to the generals they've been quoting for five years? Because they are speaking, and speaking with one voice: stay the course, and send more troops:

One of the most resonant arguments in the debate over Iraq holds that the United States can move forward by pulling its troops back, as part of a phased withdrawal. If American troops begin to leave and the remaining forces assume a more limited role, the argument holds, it will galvanize the Iraqi government to assume more responsibility for securing and rebuilding Iraq.

This is the case now being argued by many Democrats, most notably Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the incoming chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who asserts that the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq should begin within four to six months.

But this argument is being challenged by a number of military officers, experts and former generals, including some who have been among the most vehement critics of the Bush administration’s Iraq policies.

For a long time, John McCain was a lonely campaigner for an increase in our commitment in Iraq an Afghanistan. Some attribute his stance to political convenience, but with one son in the Marine Corps and another at the US Naval Academy, McCain is one of the few to have put the future of his family in harm's way. And his arguments are gaining force: Chester reports that, contrary to the President's critics (who have accused him, prematurely, of caving to the Baker commission) he is considering sending more troops to Iraq:

President George Bush has told senior advisers that the US and its allies must make "a last big push" to win the war in Iraq and that instead of beginning a troop withdrawal next year, he may increase US forces by up to 20,000 soldiers, according to sources familiar with the administration's internal deliberations . . .

Point one of the strategy calls for an increase rather than a decrease in overall US force levels inside Iraq, possibly by as many as 20,000 soldiers . . . The reinforcements will be used to secure Baghdad, scene of the worst sectarian and insurgent violence, and enable redeployments of US, coalition and Iraqi forces elsewhere in the country.

Point two of the plan stresses the importance of regional cooperation to the successful rehabilitation of Iraq. This could involve the convening of an international conference of neighbouring countries or more direct diplomatic, financial and economic involvement of US allies such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait . . .

Chester comments:

The idea that Syria or Iran will help much here is laughable. But asking Kuwait or Saudi Arabia for assistance of some sort, whether diplomatic, financial, or of an intelligence nature, could pay great dividends. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are primarily Sunni states, and it will not please them to know that the US is abandoning Iraq to be dominated by Iran, and probably for its Sunni population to be ethnically cleansed. It is in their interests to assist us -- if only for the realpolitik goal of thwarting Iran's regional ambitions.

Exactly. But more importantly, the threat of involving neighboring Sunni states strengthens our hand and gives the US much-needed leverage over Iran - something that George Friedman pointed out in his excellent Stratfor analysis. The missing piece in all of this has always been what a visibly weakened Bush administration could offer (or alternatively hold over) Iran to bring them to the table:

This is going to be the hard part for Bush. The last thing he wants is to enhance Iranian power. But the fact is that Iranian power already has been enhanced by the ability of Iraqi Shia to act with indifference to U.S. wishes. By complying with this recommendation, Washington would not be conceding much. It would be acknowledging reality. Of course, publicly acknowledging what has happened is difficult, but the alternative is a continuation of the current strategy -- also difficult. Bush has few painless choices.

What a settlement with Iran would look like is, of course, a major question. We have discussed that elsewhere. For the moment, the key issue is not what a settlement would look like but whether there can be a settlement at all with Iran -- or even direct discussions. In a sense, that is a more difficult problem than the final shape of an agreement.

Bottom line: the Democrats, having weakened our own bargaining position almost irreparably, have now gained a measure of power. A mainstay of their argument was that the civilian leadership had a duty to listen to the military.

The question is, now that they have a voice, will they do as they advised the White House to do, or will they recklessly push an political agenda that virtually every intelligence and military analyst agrees is hostile to our long term interests?

Stay tuned - it's going to be a long, bumpy ride.

Update: A clarification is perhaps in order.

I have, in general, not been sympathetic to the 'more boots on the ground' school of thought, if by more boots on the ground one means the oft-misnamed Powell doctrine of overwhelming force, which I believe is clearly misapplied in a counterinsurgency situation. But that doesn't mean I reject the notion of careful application of marginal increases in force (for instance, restoring our current troop numbers to their former levels) out of hand.

See TigerHawk's post on Counterinsurgency for some valuable perspective. I thought Mycroft's comment particularly astute: within reason, it's not how many boots on the ground, but how you deploy them that matters.

One of the mainstays of counterinsurgency doctrine is minimum force.

If your force becomes too large and unwieldy, then the commanders become terribly out of touch with the local situation as they become absorbed in directing the operations of their own personnel, which is a far more familiar and welcome task. Also, with a long view, a minimal troop presence forces the locals to stand up and take charge, instead of allowing them to become grievously dependent on your supplies and firepower.

However, it is also of primary importance to use the troops you do have wisely: to put them on the ground, in support of your political goals. So I wonder: what would have happened had those 500 troops Lt. Hegseth talks about been deployed in Samarra proper, bunking down with the locals, instead of coagulating at a large base? And, also, would Lt. Hegseth's achievements in Samarra better stand the test of time if the City Council always had a large American presence to fall back on, or if they learned, slowly, painfully, but surely, to stand up on their own?

Too few troops, or too few in hidden bases away from the locals, and you never get a handle on the situation. Too many, and the locals become dependent on you even as you become alienated from them. On these considerations does counterinsurgency turn.

This aligns well with General Abizaid's testimony before the SASC, and this gets to the second part of my clarification. I said the Democrats should listen to the Generals, but again the question becomes one of General-shopping, which is a detestable practice whose perpetrators should be taken to the nearest public square and shot without delay. It strikes me that retired Generals are perhaps not best versed in the resource constraints of the active forces, and so are not the best source of "expert testimony" on what the services can afford to pony up at this time, nor on what is needed in theater.

With the awful, awful specter of Darth Rummy finally gone, perhaps the poor pitiful scared active duty Generals yearning to breathe free and drink of the wonderful nectar of First Amendment candor can FINALLY say what they really think....

/sarcasm. We've listened to at least a year of Democrat insinuations that some of our nation's finest are at best cowards and at worst liars. Now that Rumsfeld has stepped down, one wonders what will be their excuse for disregarding their testimony? In any event, their opinions should weigh far more heavily in any decisions made by Congress than those of men long since retired and out of the decision and information loops.

But then I'm just a dumb Marine wife.

Update II: Patrick sends: I have a related essay at American Spectator online today that you may find interesting. Do check it out - it's excellent. Bonus points for the Vizzini reference...

Regarding the predictability of Muslim-on-Muslim violence, the editorial staff had to laugh at this item a few days ago, which shows that not only the White House had high hopes for things not taking as long after the fall of Baghdad:

we should have no illusions; that it’s going to take at least two to three months of a very strong military presence in Iraq to re-establish law and order, get humanitarian assistance going, get the water going, the electricity going, in other words establish the secure premise upon which reconstruction can take place both physically in the country and in terms of political evolution. But there should be a performance-based phase-out of the U.S. military presence. Let’s establish law and order. Let’s get the reconstruction progress going forward as quickly as possible, and turn it over to an emerging Iraqi leadership, mostly from within and those from without who have credibility inside, and allow them to run their country. The longer we stay, the more we will be identified as being occupiers and not liberators. It’s a tough call to make, and you can’t predict at what date on the calendar that call should be made.

A few of you (Don Brouhaha?) may note with some amusement the last name of the author, our former envoy to Syria. Holy miscalculation, Batman!

Posted by Cassandra at 05:07 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

October 19, 2006

Media's Tet Offensive Sapping Our Will

Did you happen to catch the headlines this morning? From all accounts an historic event occurred; a watershed of epic proportions. In a war where our side has suffered endless setbacks we finally saw the first glimmering of clear and unequivocal victory, long past the time when reason or even blind hope could have predicted it. But all the same, there it was this morning; the words fairly lighting up screen as if to say, "Mission Accomplished":

BUSH ACKNOWLEDGES IRAQ-VIETNAM WAR COMPARISON.

How many men died to make that dream a reality? Yes, the President of the United States finally admitted what legions of anonymous Pentagon insiders have whispered amongst themselves, but only brave truth tellers like Keith Olbermann had the courage to speak publicly in that forbidding Climate of Fear in which we find ourselves, post-9/11:

Bush said insurgents are trying "to inflict enough damage that we'd leave."

Still, it was shocking to hear the words spoken out loud. Everything the insurgents have done to this point has been with one goal in mind: to secure our withdrawal. But why do they want us to leave?

No obstacle now prevents them from participating in the democratic process - none at all. But the insurgents are not content to share power with their countrymen. These criminals want to force their views on an unwilling populace at gunpoint, a dream they can only acheive with our help: help the aimless Bush administration has so far refused to provide. Fortunately, men like John Murtha and his Defeatocrats have a Plan to save the day. We can make everyone happy except, perhaps, the provisional government of Iraq (which has asked us to stay) and the innocent Iraqis who will be slaughtered by out of control militias of course, but no matter. We need only renege on our promises and leave the peaceful citizens of Baghdad defenseless against violent men who refuse to respect the rule of law. Surely with the irritating effect of our presence removed the insurgents will mend their evil ways and suddenly become fans of democracy, though they've shown no signs of democratic leanings so far. Surely they will suddenly become fans of law and order. Surely Iraq will not become another South Vietnam. After all, there are no boats in Iraq, are there? And with the media retreat from Iraq all but complete, America won't have to witness the ensuing bloodbath. It will be just like it was in the good old days when Saddam was in charge: an orderly solution.

We can go back to watching ElimiDate and American Idol. This is, after all, not our problem.

They are trying to not only kill American troops, but they're trying to foment sectarian violence," he said.

The insurgents are trying to turn the Iraqis against each other, trying to foment civil war. Divide and conquer: the oldest strategy in the book. Foreign fighters from outside Iraq are trying to tear Iraq into pieces, and yet the solution of men like James Baker is to talk to our enemies, Iran and Syria, who surely have America's long-term regional interests at heart. No doubt those profoundly democratic regimes will support the fledgling Iraqi government in its attempts to instill respect for human rights and the rule of law.

What is even more heartening is that instead of supporting the Iraqi government, the vast punditocracy, including much of the American Right, has already declared defeat in the name of a return to "realism". This is the response to the gallantry of those purple fingers in that long-ago January election. While Iraq was dodging bullets and burying its dead, America decided the war was cutting into time better spent cruising the aisles at Costco and loading up on jumbo-sized packages of breakfast muffins, chili lime hot wings, and pesto.

But then that is the mark of a civilized nation, isn't it? That is what makes us, unlike them, ready for democracy: the ability to set priorities and stick to them; the ability to be realistic.

Perhaps the saddest thing in all of this is that we have pulled the wool over our own eyes. Since the very beginning of this war, the media have trumpeted the Iraq=Vietnam comparison.

Since the very beginning of this war, some conservative pundits, including this author, have pointed up the irony of that analogy. For Vietnam was won on the battlefield and lost in the newspapers and TV screens of America. It was lost on Capitol Hill. It was a failure of political will, not military force. Fifty-five thousand American men and women died...for nothing. We literally threw their lives away, because we were faithless.

And then we compounded our sin, because after we withdrew from Vietnam we had promised South Vietnam military aid, and we were providing it. South Vietnam was continuing to fight, and they were holding their own. Melvin Laird, SecDef at the time, speaks eloquently of what happens to the powerless when America "forgets" her promises:


The truth about Vietnam that revisionist historians conveniently forget is that the United States had not lost when we withdrew in 1973. In fact, we grabbed defeat from the jaws of victory two years later when Congress cut off the funding for South Vietnam that had allowed it to continue to fight on its own. Over the four years of Nixon's first term, I had cautiously engineered the withdrawal of the majority of our forces while building up South Vietnam's ability to defend itself. My colleague and friend Henry Kissinger, meanwhile, had negotiated a viable agreement between North and South Vietnam, which was signed in January 1973. It allowed for the United States to withdraw completely its few remaining troops and for the United States and the Soviet Union to continue funding their respective allies in the war at a specified level. Each superpower was permitted to pay for replacement arms and equipment. Documents released from North Vietnamese historical files in recent years have proved that the Soviets violated the treaty from the moment the ink was dry, continuing to send more than $1 billion a year to Hanoi. The United States barely stuck to the allowed amount of military aid for two years, and that was a mere fraction of the Soviet contribution.

Yet during those two years, South Vietnam held its own courageously and respectably against a better-bankrolled enemy. Peace talks continued between the North and the South until the day in 1975 when Congress cut off U.S. funding. The Communists walked out of the talks and never returned. Without U.S. funding, South Vietnam was quickly overrun. We saved a mere $297 million a year and in the process doomed South Vietnam, which had been ably fighting the war without our troops since 1973.

I believed then and still believe today that given enough outside resources, South Vietnam was capable of defending itself, just as I believe Iraq can do the same now. From the Tet offensive in 1968 up to the fall of Saigon in 1975, South Vietnam never lost a major battle. The Tet offensive itself was a victory for South Vietnam and devastated the North Vietnamese army, which lost 289,000 men in 1968 alone. Yet the overriding media portrayal of the Tet offensive and the war thereafter was that of defeat for the United States and the Saigon government. Just so, the overriding media portrayal of the Iraq war is one of failure and futility.

Vietnam gave the United States the reputation for not supporting its allies. The shame of Vietnam is not that we were there in the first place, but that we betrayed our ally in the end. It was Congress that turned its back on the promises of the Paris accord. The president, the secretary of state, and the secretary of defense must share the blame. In the end, they did not stand up for the commitments our nation had made to South Vietnam. Any president or cabinet officer who is turned down by Congress when he asks for funding for a matter of national security or defense simply has not tried hard enough. There is no excuse for that failure.

Mr. Laird is right. There is no excuse for that failure.

What's worse, the American media, aided by shameless politicians like John Murtha, have relentlessly cheerled an effort to drive us out of Iraq, despite their own admissions that they know this is precisely what the insurgents want. In a recent piece for the New York Times, Tom Friedman admits as much:

...while there may be no single hand coordinating the upsurge in violence in Iraq, enough people seem to be deliberately stoking the fires there before our election that the parallel with Tet is not inappropriate. The jihadists want to sow so much havoc that Bush supporters will be defeated in the midterms and the president will face a revolt from his own party, as well as from Democrats, if he does not begin a pullout from Iraq.

The jihadists follow our politics much more closely than people realize. A friend at the Pentagon just sent me a post by the “Global Islamic Media Front” carried by the jihadist Web site Ana al-Muslim on Aug. 11. It begins: “The people of jihad need to carry out a media war that is parallel to the military war and exert all possible efforts to wage it successfully. This is because we can observe the effect that the media have on nations to make them either support or reject an issue.”

If there was ever an admission against interest, this is it. Or is it, at long last, simply a declaration of allegiance?

The media are being used, and they know they are being used. They have known it since the war began. They know their goals are aligned with the goals of terrorists, murderers, criminals. And yet, though this is undeniably true, to say it out loud is to question their patriotism. It is incorrect speech, a thought which may not be uttered out loud, may not be voiced for fear of calling down the Furies upon the head of the speaker. Why is it, one wonders, that in a nation where the media ceaselessly inform us the administration is suppressing speech (yet they seem to be screaming dissent at the top of their lungs without repercussions) no one is allowed to question certain dominant memes expressed in the press? Are only some ideas subject to critical review? And who, exactly, gets to sit in judgment? Who controls the megaphone? Certainly not government.

John Murtha, trying to score points on the President, invoked the supposed moral authority of Colin Powell:


Was former secretary of state Colin L. Powell defeatist when he warned: "If you break it, you own it"?

It's a good question, because no matter how you look at it, right now the job in Iraq isn't done and John Murtha doesn't want to finish it. Parts of Iraq are still visibly broken, and he and his cohort want to run away and leave them to pick up the pieces. Yet it would seem that by his own admission, that isn't what Colin Powell, his hero, would have done. It isn't the course for men of honor.

How long, after we withdraw to a "safe, over the horizon position", as men like John Murtha suggest, will it be until the final act in the Iraq=Vietnam drama plays out?

Until a feckless Congress, with the Democrats firmly in control as they were in 1975, votes to pull the rug out from underneath the Iraqis and withdraw even financial assistance? Once the first promise has been broken, the others are easy. They flow like water.

Ralph Peters is right. Osama bin Laden was right.

Once again, we have failed our fighting men and women. Iraq is becoming Vietnam, and it is going to be a bloodbath. I hope the media will be happy with what they have wrought. I hope they are pleased when the death tolls pouring from the new Iraq they fought so hard to achieve reach what they were under the UN sanctions that enabled Saddam to starve, rape, and brutalize his own people as the West watched impassively.

Perhaps they can tell the Mayor of Tal Afar why we are leaving. Perhaps they can explain it to the shade of Rafael Peralta. I cannot. Let Clarence Page do it - let him explain it to the families of all the men who have died. As I look around, I see a broken nation and I am ashamed and disgusted beyond belief at the cowardice and venality on display. This is not the nation I love, that I support, that I would gladly give my life for. I can only pray we remember what we once were before it is too late.

*******************************************************

Inspired, though he may not wish to disclaim all responsibilitity, by this post.

Posted by Cassandra at 05:21 AM | Comments (36)

October 13, 2006

The Gift Of Freedom

Three nights ago, I had a dream.

I don't know why - very likely I was just overtired. In over twenty-five years this has never happened before, but there is a first time for everything.

I was sleeping, and then suddenly I wasn't. And there they were, standing on my doorstep in the dark; not wanting, really, to come in. Not wanting to tell me my husband would never be coming home again.

I don't remember a single thing after that moment, because time just.... stopped.

I wonder whether Patty Peterson felt that way? I didn't know Patty. Our lives never touched.

But the Marine Corps is an odd sort of family and several days ago that family came together over that bizarre superhighway called the Internet to honor a fallen comrade, to silently mourn yet another loss. But more importantly, to see whether there was anything left undone for his widow, a woman none of us had ever met, or were ever likely to. That is a ritual that plays out all too often these days. As JHD says, it never gets any easier.

As it turned out, there wasn't much we could do. As so often happens in life, our erstwhile caring was well meant but misguided. Mrs. Peterson, in the finest tradition of warrior wives since Thermopylae, had put aside her grief for the moment and was busy caring for others:

For all that Captain Peterson's family and loved ones said wonderful things about him, what was most outstanding about this funeral were the Marines themselves. We were all impressed by the last visitation before the funeral began. However, when one young Marine from Captain Peterson's unit came forward to talk, I was surprised and moved beyond anything I'd expected. This young Marine held a notecard with the condolence message from the unit written on it. It was his job to express what Captain Peterson's men wanted to say. He walked up to the podium, clenched and unclenched his jaw, kept adjusting his cap lower and lower, and then, finally, he just stood there. For what seemed like forever but was really closer to five minutes, the young man stood, unable to speak. Finally, he began in a rough voice which kept cracking. He had to stop a few times, and at one point his voice broke entirely. He coughed, wiped his nose and said,"Allergies". And then stood there trying to regain his composure. Finally, after starting and stopping and invoking 'allergies' again, Captain Peterson's widow walked up the stairs to the podium, placed her arm around his shoulders and clasped his hand with hers, and stood with him. After his speech was over, she walked back down with him, walked him to his seat, wiped his face with her handkerchief and went back to her seat. All, of course, without crying herself. Seeing this enormous act of compassion for another even on the day of her husband's funeral was more than we mere mortals could bear, and there was not a dry eye in the church. The other Marines were openly crying, and one, the man whom everyone saluted, had Kleenex in both hands, and kept using first one handful and then the other.

All funerals present the departed one in the best light possible. Everyone who dies has had a positive effect on those around him, at least according to the eulogies, whether or not it is true. However, Captain Peterson really was one of those men who seemed to leave a mark on everyone's life who knew him. His friends from high school openly wept. His best friend from university gave a speech about visiting Arlington National Cemetery with his friend Justin which made everyone in the church sit up just a little prouder and straighter. By the time the funeral was over, everyone was in tears but were also overwhelmed by what a caring and joyful family he'd grown up in. Still, the main themes were still love of family, love of country, loyalty to fellow Marines. That is no longer just a slogan to the Horsemen, something they've heard and read about. Now, that philosophy has a very real face - the face of Marine Captain Justin Peterson. Semper fi, Captain Peterson. The Horsemen all say "Oorah!"

In the coming years, Patty Peterson will no doubt have to answer a lot of questions asked by her children, by herself in the lonely hours of the night, by friends, family, by well meaning and not so well meaning strangers. What did Justin die for? Was it really "worth it"?

These questions can be difficult for any military wife. It may be easier to answer the question, "What did Justin live for?" What were the values he was willing to fight for, to bleed for, to be separated from the wife, sons, and baby daughter he loved more than life itself for, in order to ensure they did not perish from this earth? And that is the proper question, for no individual soldier can guarantee the end state for which he fights. That is a matter far above his pay grade.

When he loads up his gear, he knows only that the nation he serves has decided to take a stand in a world where all too many nations posture, and pontificate about freedom, and yet do nothing when push comes to shove. And yet, like Captain Peterson's funeral, if people like the Patriot Guard choose, instead of acting, to stand by and do nothing, if they are not willing to step up to the plate and defend the rights of peaceful people, the Fred Phelps of this world will quickly take over and chaos will reign. It is not enough to tut-tut, and disapprove, and condemn their actions. Someone needs to say, "Enough", and then do something about it.

But moral clarity is in short supply these days. In the warm and fuzzy world of the moral equivalence brigade, it seems not to matter whether one dies trying to free a foreign land from the grip of homicide bombers and honorless thugs who saw the heads off female aid workers or is killed while committing acts of incredible savagery against innocent civilians: killing is wrong/bad and those who do it must all be equally condemned.

Re "His Corps Value Was Bravery," Column One, Oct. 3

If an individual were to kill 11 people in house-to-house gang warfare in South Los Angeles, we wouldn't call him a hero; we'd call him a bloodthirsty, homicidal maniac. We would fear for the future of our city.

But when it's war, we nominate these individuals for one of the nation's highest honors. We spend several hundred billion dollars to send thousands of our young adults overseas so they can engage in this kind of behavior in someone else's country.

The 11 people we dismiss as insurgents are mourned by their own families, some of whom consider their actions a logical response to a foreign power occupying their land, while others grieve at the senselessness of it all.

The Times has shown its support for the troops, like we're all expected to do. But if Marine Pfc. Christopher Adlesperger had been a street gang member, we would have been subjected to articles explaining how we needed to provide alternatives to murderous organizations that provide a sense of belonging to its members.

T.C. PETERSON
Los Angeles

Once again, America shows its deep, fundamental unseriousness about any topic less shallow than the latest installment of Battlestar Galactica or what they can download onto their iPod. Thus are titanic struggles between civilizations reduced in the blink of an eye to "gang warfare". Don't think too much about it, TC. Reduce it to some meretricious analogy that allows unwanted information to bypass your frontal lobe altogether.

I often wonder what it's like, living in TC's world. Did he, for instance, consider this to be unbearably delicious social commentary?

ralljackass.gif

I understand some people do. But then they are the same people who don't quite "get" Chris Adlesperger. They will never "get" Justin Peterson.

And they will never understand that for some people, the gift of freedom is a pearl beyond price:

Among the things I cannot accept is exploiting the suffering of people to make gains that are not the least related to easing the suffering of those people. I’m talking here about those researchers who used the transparency and open doors of the new Iraq to come and count the drops of blood we shed.

Human flesh is abundant and all they have to do is call this hospital or that office to get the count of casualties, even more they can knock on doors and ask us one by one and we would answer because we’ve got nothing to be ashamed of.

We believe in what we’re struggling for and we are proud of our sacrifices.

I wonder if that research team was willing to go to North Korea or Libya and I think they wouldn’t have the guts to dare ask Saddam to let them in and investigate deaths under his regime.

No, they would’ve shit their pants the moment they set foot in Iraq and they would find themselves surrounded by the Mukhabarat men counting their breaths. However, maybe they would have the chance to receive a gift from the tyrant in exchange for painting a rosy picture about his rule.

They shamelessly made an auction of our blood, and it didn’t make a difference if the blood was shed by a bomb or a bullet or a heart attack because the bigger the count the more useful it becomes to attack this or that policy in a political race and the more useful it becomes in cheerleading for murderous tyrannical regimes.

[...]

Let those fools know that nothing will stop us from walking this road and nothing will stop our friends and allies from helping us reach safe shores. There’s simply no going back even if it cost us more and their fake statistics will not frighten us…our sacrifices, like I said, make us proud because our bloods are not digits in those ugly papers. Our sacrifices are paving the way for future generations to live the better life we couldn’t live.

I hate this war.

There is not a day that goes by, I don't think, when I don't think about how much I hate it, and the immense, soul-shattering suffering it has caused.

But do not mistake me for one instant, my support has never wavered.

Three nights ago in my dream, all I remember is feeling like a giant hand had squeezed my heart and all the air had suddenly been sucked out of my lungs, leaving me leaden and empty. I wanted to sink into the earth and let it swallow me forever.

Reading about Captain Peterson's funeral, I was suddenly swept back in time to the day the war became real for me; to a tiny chapel in southern California. To the sight of Marines I was used to seeing laughing, joking around in the gym, always cocky, full of themselves, suddenly overcome with grief.

Struggling not to break down.

And in my ears is the sound of a song that for years was associated with smoky barrooms and pool tables and laughter and a suddenly caught hand and a warm embrace:

Looking back on the memory of
The dance we shared
Beneath the stars above
For a moment
All the world was right
How could I have known
You'd ever say goodbye

And now I'm glad I didn't know
The way it all would end
The way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance
I could have missed the pain
But I'd have had to miss
The dance...

I can never hear that song now without tears springing to my eyes.

Because the image that is indelibly burned into my retinas is that of a Marine widow, lovely, fragile yet steely strong, bending over her husband's body. Fussing one last time with his dress blues, adjusting the damned stiff collar that never will lie just right. I have done that so many times....

And then gently kissing him and lowering the casket door.

Goodbye my love.

Goodbye.

Some people will never understand the gift of freedom. Not what they died for, but what these men and women lived for. But I do.

I do.

***************

Thanks to Linda for the Rall cartoon.

Yesterday, Linda, Jane, and Chrissie took a moment to remember those who died in the attack on the USS Cole.

Posted by Cassandra at 04:59 AM | Comments (30)

September 06, 2006

Faith And Commitment II: The War Of Perceptions

An old adage maintains that war is just politics by other means, but it has often occurred to me that the obverse is equally true. As often as not these days, politics has come to resemble a ritualized form of warfare in which the participants don't even trouble to hide the knives when they go for the jugular. In war, though, the spoils are usually tangible: treasure, lives, cities destroyed or taken from the enemy. In politics they tend to be more ephemeral: reputations, poll numbers, the ability to sense and exploit a national mood.

It should not surprise us, then, that in deadly parallel to the bloody and protracted wars in Iraq and Afghanistan a no less vicious shadow war has played out here at home. It is a war of perceptions, a war between combatants no less determined than those who will stop at nothing to prevent democracy from taking hold in the Middle East.

Last week the war of words raged on. The administration, tired of mostly baseless accusations that it had failed to justify the war to the American people, attempted once more to make its case. Predictably, that supposedly eagerly awaited case was met with hoots and howls of derision from the party in opposition. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld began with a speech to the American Legion that even the radically right-wing rag Slate magazine realized was primarily aimed at what he saw as biased media coverage of the war. But Rumsfeld had the nerve to express "unacceptable dissent" from the received wisdom that only certain points of view may be expressed on Capitol Hill:

Well, entirely coincidentally no doubt, Rumsfeld gave a rousing speech before an American Legion convention yesterday in which he said that the real problem with the country these days is that too many people "believe that, somehow or someway, vicious extremists [can] be appeased." In a pointed attack on the media, he added: "Any kind of moral and intellectual confusion about who and what is right or wrong can severely weaken the ability of free societies to persevere." There is too much criticism of American atrocities, he said, and not enough praise for those who win medals for valor.

Of course, Slate's clear-sightedness didn't outlast the inevitable spin. Soon enough, Rumsfeld's speech was automagically converted by media luminaries like the AP and Keith Olbermann into a "demonizing" attack on the Democrat party and the "majority of Americans who oppose the transient occupants of the highest offices in the land", to which this stunned author can only reply that she was shocked, if gratified, to hear the DNC finally admit they control the media.

This "majority" - it's an interesting demographic, because by all accounts they elected those very same "transient occupants". And though we keep hearing, from smart, smart folks like Jack Murtha, that a "majority" of Americans want us out of Iraq now, no one is really quite sure what that means. Consider, for instance, the intriguing answers to this poll question:

"Do you think the U.S. should withdraw SOME troops from Iraq by the end of the year, or do you think the U.S. should keep the SAME NUMBER of troops in Iraq through the end of the year?" If "Withdraw": "Do you think the U.S. should withdraw ALL troops from Iraq by the end of the year, or do you think the U.S. should keep SOME troops in Iraq through the end of the year?"

...only 26% favor a "withdraw all" strategy by the end of the year, while the majority (69% favor a strategy which withdraws only some or none) don't. Now one should note that 61%, which matches the number who "oppose" or "disapprove" of the war also is the percentage which said "withdraw". However, less than half of the number saying "withdraw" said "withdraw all"...

A clear majority (69%)of this question feel we should remain in Iraq past the end of this year. Interesting.

Last time we checked, 26% was clearly not a majority. Poll numbers have always been ambiguous, and moreover they respond in a volatile fashion to events in the news cycle. Unless the Democrat party intends to rewrite the Constitution to introduce the substitution of Gallup polls for the ballot box and election terms, it would seem the rhetoric about polls is, while interesting, of little moment.

But in the grand tradition of carpe diem, leading Democrats on the Hill sent a letter to the White House with their latest list of demands. It makes for interesting reading:

Over one month ago, we wrote to you about the war in Iraq. In the face of escalating violence, increasing instability in the region, and an overall strain on our troops that has reduced their readiness to levels not seen since Vietnam, we called upon you to change course and adopt a new strategy to give our troops and the Iraqi people the best chance for success.

Apparently the Democrats haven't heard of Operation Together Forward, nor are they aware that last month violence in Baghdad fell by 46%. Of course, you probably didn't hear that either, unless you happened to read the last paragraph of an article in the WaPo entitled (no, not VIOLENCE IN BAGHDAD FALLS BY 46 PERCENT!!!!!), BUT

Iraqi Troops Battle Shiite Militiamen In Southern City
20 U.S.-Backed Soldiers Are Killed
.

Of course, since this is not the New York Times, we will helpfully point out that one month does not a "trend" make, and we will also admit that such improvements are utterly useless if they are not sustained. We will even admit that it is easier to get a 46% percent reduction in violence when the level of violence has climbed far too high in the first place. It will not be as easy to sustain that rate of reduction - like most improvements, these things often exhibit an exponential character: rapid improvement at first, followed by a slower, steadier rate of change which will surely be interpreted by the media as a sign that things are going to hell in a handbasket rather than an entirely predictable and normal phenomenon.

Not content with asking the administration to change tactics when they have already done so (evidently with some success, though the media have - per usual - declined to inform the public) the Party in Opposition proceed to the next item on their agenda:

Unfortunately, your stay the course strategy is not working. In the five-week period since writing to you, over 60 U.S. soldiers and Marines have been killed, hundreds of U.S. troops have been wounded, many of them grievously, nearly 1,000 Iraqi civilians have died, and the cost to the American taxpayer has grown by another $8 billion dollars. Even the administration's most recent report to Congress on Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq indicates that security trends in Iraq are deteriorating, and likely to continue to worsen for the foreseeable future. With daily attacks against American and Iraqi troops at close to their highest levels since the start of the war, and sectarian violence intensifying, we can only conclude that our troops are caught in the middle of a low-grade civil war that is getting worse.

This is what passes for insight amongst our elected representatives. If, in war, people are dying, money is being expended and the enemy refuses to give up, the solution is obvious to anyone who is is not a mildly retarded chimpanzee under the control of Zionist overlords: we must quit. Never mind those pesky strategic objectives. On this subject, Adel Abdul Mahdi (the Vice President of Iraq) is compelling:

The mostly bad news from Iraq this summer left a lot of people in Washington, including a few in the Bush administration, feeling confused, anxious and doubtful about whether the Iraqi government can deliver on its promise to stabilize the country. As it turns out, some of Iraq's most powerful leaders have had similar feelings as they have watched the news from Washington.

That was the message of a quiet pre-Labor Day visit here by Adel Abdul Mahdi, who has been one of America's key allies in the attempt to replace Saddam Hussein's totalitarianism with a democratic political system. Mahdi is now Iraq's vice president, but he called his meetings with President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and key senators and congressmen a "private visit."

In fact, he was here to deliver a message, and ask a question, on behalf of Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who remains Iraq's single most influential figure -- and the linchpin of the past 40 months of political reconstruction. Sistani's message to Bush, Mahdi told a group of reporters I joined last week, was that "Iraqis are sticking to the principles of the constitution and democracy." But the ayatollah wanted to know if the United States is still on board as well.

"It's a critical moment. We want to be sure that we understand perfectly what's going on, and what is the real strategy of the United States in Iraq," Mahdi said. "We read in the press about different perspectives and attitudes. That's why we want to be clear -- whether there is a Plan B."

Mahdi said he got Bush's commitment to stand by the government. But the uncertainty he expressed on behalf of Sistani was real. "When I read the [American] press, I'm confused," said the burly, bearded economist, who was educated in a Jesuit school in Baghdad and later in France and who speaks fluent English.

The worry goes deeper than that caused by growing calls for a speedy withdrawal of U.S. troops, or by reports that some even in the Bush administration are considering the abandonment of Iraqi democracy. As Mahdi sees it, American and Iraqi agendas are more broadly out of sync. Whether or not they support the government and the war, Americans are looking for ways to quickly reverse -- or escape from -- the deteriorating situation they see on the ground.

Mahdi, Sistani and other Shiite leaders in the government don't share Washington's perception of a downward spiral. They also don't buy the American sense of urgency -- the oft-expressed idea that the new government has only a few months to succeed. Consequently, the many ideas for silver bullets tossed around in the U.S. debate mostly don't interest them.

You could see this in the conversation I joined at Mahdi's suite at the Ritz Carlton hotel. We journalists peppered him with questions about why the formation of a unity government had failed to reduce the violence. We asked about all the options usually talked about in Washington -- from a rewrite of the constitution to a partition of the country; from an international conference to the dispatch of more U.S. troops.

For the most part, our queries were politely and somewhat laconically dismissed. Iraq is not in a civil war, Mahdi said, and doesn't need more U.S. troops. It has a constitution and elected government, and thus there is no need for an international conference. As for constitutional reform, the Shiite and Kurd parties that wrote the charter last year are waiting for proposals from Sunni dissidents. Mahdi added: "So far we have heard nothing."

So what is the solution? "Time -- that is it," Mahdi replied. "A nation like Iraq needs time. The elections for a permanent government happened eight months ago. We have been in office a few weeks. The people who we have in office have never governed. These people come from oppression and a bad political system. We can't import ministers to Iraq. There will be many mistakes. The Americans made many mistakes, and Iraqis had to support that."

"Our options as Iraqis are that we don't have an exit strategy or any withdrawal timetable," Mahdi said, somewhat bitterly. "We simply go on. . . . It is a process, and brick by brick we are working on it."

When I listen to men like Mahdi, I am shamed.

Shamed as an American. Shamed as a human being.

And I am tired. So tired of the over-complex theories of too-smart men who are so sure the Bush administration got it wrong.

History, I am well aware, may well prove them right. I doubt there are too many men and women fighting over there right now who don't know that, though. I doubt there are too many people in the White House who don't know that.

I think there is a critical difference between men like this and men like Fred Kaplan, who I read dutifully every week as he tells me what a stupid, stupid man George Bush is:

Bush doesn't see this danger—he chooses not to see it—because it plays against his ideology. He views the world as locked in a titanic struggle between, as he put it in today's speech, the forces of "freedom and moderation" and the forces of "tyranny and extremism." This is, in his mind, "the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century."

He acknowledges that some of these dark forces are driven by "different sources of inspiration"—some are Sunni, some Shiite, some homegrown terrorists. But he claims that they nonetheless "form the outlines of a single movement, a worldwide network of radicals that use terror to kill those who stand in the way of their totalitarian ideology." As for the sectarian violence between the Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq—a phenomenon that would seem to cast doubt on this Manichean vision—Bush explains it away as having been "inspired by Zarqawi." Certainly Abu Musab al-Zarqawi encouraged sectarian violence, but to say he contrived it is ludicrous.

It's not simply ludicrous; it leads to bad policy. It reflects a gross misunderstanding of Iraqi society (which is far more complex than a checkerboard of freedom fighters versus extremists)—and of the real enemies we face (which are far less monolithic or unified than the president seems to believe).

Not all of our enemies are fascists, and not all of our friends are democrats. The danger—really, the crisis—looming in the Middle East is not the threat to freedom and democracy but rather the threat to stability. This is the bugaboo Bush does not want to face. He has said, over and over, that his predecessors' infatuation with stability is what caused the festering stagnation and resentment that bred the terrorists who mounted the attacks of Sept. 11. "Years of pursuing stability to promote peace had left us with neither," Bush said this morning. That's a matter of debate. In any event, the new danger is that Bush's neglect of stability to promote freedom will leave us with neither of those things—to the still-deeper detriment of peace: a trifecta of world misery.

This article, and ones like it, is why I couldn't write yesterday.

I read it, and my mind just shut down. I just, for lack of a better word, fucking shut down. I know I shouldn't swear. It's not ladylike. It would be more professional if I didn't. But I cried when I read those words. I am crying again now. I can't help it - I feel so angry, so helpless in the face of malice and arrogance of that magnitude.

I wonder: did Fred Kaplan read Adel Mahdi's essay in the Washington Post? Will he presume to explain to him the extraordinary complexities of Iraqi society, and how "those people" just aren't ready for democracy?

Or will this man - Robert Kaplan - who makes many good points, but who also, I fear, seems to think that we should be managing the Iraqis into freedom, explain to them they they aren't like us? No, no soup for you today. You are not ready. It is in our national interest for you to have stability, even if that means mass graves and plastic shredders. You have no human dignity. You do not possess that essential spark that makes us believe that you can carry the torch we pass.

Lord knows, the Democrats do not believe it. The current direction is democracy and a united Iraq. But that is not what they want:

We propose a new direction, which would include:

(1) transitioning the U.S. mission in Iraq to counter-terrorism, training, logistics and force protection;
(2) beginning the phased redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq before the end of this year;
3) working with Iraqi leaders to disarm the militias and to develop a broad-based and sustainable political settlement, including amending the Constitution to achieve a fair sharing of power and resources; and
(4) convening an international conference and contact group to support a political settlement in Iraq, to preserve Iraq's sovereignty, and to revitalize the stalled economic reconstruction and rebuilding effort.

It is September. Phased redeployment "before the end of the year", in addition to being unrealistic from a logistics point of view, is nothing short of a code word for withdrawal.

The Democrat party, not content with meddling with the American Constitution, would like to help the Iraqis amend their Constitution "to achieve a fair sharing of power and resources". Apparently the Democrats find the current arrangement unsatisfactory. So much for representative government. Why are we not surprised?

And in perhaps the ultimate obscenity, there is this demand. The President, having deposed one dictator, should:

"convene an international conference ...to preserve Iraq's sovereignty,".

That's right. Forget that Constitution which is supposed to give the Iraqis the right to govern themselves. The international community is going to step in and show you little brown people how it's done, being notoriously successful in running the affairs of third world nations.

On balance, perhaps the Iraqis are wise to distrust America.

Perhaps there is something wrong with me and perhaps this is a dangerous attitude, but I can't help but prefer the kind of optimism that places freedom and the tools of democracy in the hands of the Iraqis and the Afghans to the kind of arrogant paternalism that wants to preserve stability at all costs and hide the bodies. Al Qaeda has been around since the early 1900's. Islamic extremism is nothing new. People have been dying by the hundreds of thousands in the Middle East for decades.

We have been in a war and just didn't know it. The only question has ever been, which side were we on? It's not a question of being blind to consequences, or of foolishly thinking we can control events. There is no plan detailed enough or grand enough to ensure that history will fall neatly into place: there never has been. This is the awful gift and burden of freedom - that we cannot control what the recipients will do with it, and that we cannot do all their growing for them. To think that if we'd had a large enough army or a good enough plan is, I believe, a fool's dream.

Observing that mistakes were made does not change the present, nor does it prevent us from making similar mistakes in the future. If that were so, simply chanting "Iraq = Vietnam" would have warded off all mischance in the current war.

"If only we had"... is of limited utility, because we cannot know with certainty what would have happened, had we done x, y, or z. Things may have gone better. Or we might be reading a book called Fiasco: How the State Department mismanaged the reconstruction of Iraq . What we do know is that the Iraqis have braved terrorists time and time again to vote and to approve a Constitution that the Democrat leadership now appears to wish to replace with some "international committee".

We know that, though by all accounts neither the Iraqis nor a majority of the American people wish us to leave by the end of the year, the Democrat leadership has just asked the White House to do just that.

And we know one more thing, if simply care enough to stop and think about it. We have made promises, to real people who are depending on us. And as with the fall of Saigon, when the Democrat majority in Congress voted in 1974 to withdraw all military funding from the south Vietnamese Army, making the Paris Peace accords utterly worthless and unenforceable, a lot of real people will die, as they did in April of 1975 when South Vietnam was at last overrun by the Communists.

And perhaps then the many critics of this war will finally have been proved right and perception will have become reality. At last, they will have done what the terrorists could not: made of Iraq another Vietnam.

Posted by Cassandra at 05:44 AM | Comments (16)

September 02, 2006

A Lack Of Clarity

For several days now I've wondered what it was about Keith Olbermann's recent screeditorial that depresses me so deeply. I thought about this a long time because on reading his piece I found I wasn't angry, outraged, or any of those other emotions self-respecting conservative blowhards like myself don before drinking our first vente Colombia Nariño Supremo of the day. Perhaps I need to pay my attention bill more promptly.

The truth is, though, that I just couldn't summon up the requisite degree of reich-wing ardor. Reading his words, I had a sense of the ground dropping away beneath my feet. Suddenly a huge, yawning gulf opened up between Olbermann's Blue America and the one I have lived in all my life. And I don't think there is any way to reach out to the people on the other side of that gulf; to folks who believe in, who approve of, the things he said.

Believe me, I am not saying this to be inflammatory, or hateful, or to stir up trouble.

I am saying it because I don't understand, and because I grieve for my country. This sounds like a cliche, but it is true. Some of my best friends are Democrats. My brother, my sister in law. The godmother of my oldest son, who also happens to be my oldest friend on the face of this earth. I have known her since I was thirteen, which for a military kid with no fixed address is an eternity. My husband's oldest friend, who (for Pete's sake) wears a black "Don't blame me, I voted for Kerry" wrist band". He and I argue good-naturedly, and have for years, about politics. It has never - never - interfered with the love we bear each other. These are the people I have chosen to keep in touch with over the years. There aren't many. And if they believe this man, if they approve of the kind of thing he is saying, then maybe Alec Baldwin isn't the only person who needs to move to France. Maybe I am living in the wrong country. Maybe the America I thought I knew doesn't exist anymore.

I am writing this today because I don't understand people. I don't understand how men like Keith Olbermann become so self important that they think it is acceptable to throw words like "fascism" around lightly. To me, fascists are men who saw the heads off little girls, or helpless aid workers like Margaret Hassan. They are men who strap bombs to confused children and send them off to murder innocent civilians instead of voting on election day and then accepting the will of the people. I'm sorry, but to me there is considerable moral and intellectual confusion involved in the failure to see a basic difference between men like that and Don Rumsfeld, with whom they simply happen to disagree. And if Keith Olbermann finds that insulting, well I'm afraid I don't know what to say to that.

I don't understand how so many people can read his words and ostensibly agree with them? I don't think Keith Olbermann would recognize true fascism if it walked up to him and pulled the frilly panties of real, pointy-fanged oppression over his eyes. Because fascism - true fascism - should and ought to be opposed vigorously. With one's life. It is not a casual thing. People die when fascism, real fascism, enters the room, and people die to prevent that from happening.

Keith Olbermann, and apparently a good many other people, took a great deal of offense at a very few words in Donald Rumsfeld's speech:

Olbermann delivered this commentary with fire and passion while highlighting how Rumsfeld’s comments echoes other times in our world’s history when anyone who questioned the administration was coined as a traitor, unpatriotic, communist or any other colorful term. Luckily we pulled out of those times and we will pull out of these times.

Remember - Rumsfeld did not just call the Democrats out yesterday, he called out a majority of this country. This wasn’t only a partisan attack, but more so an attack against the majority of Americans.

This "summary" highlights, better than anything I could possibly say, the over-emotional response to Rumsfeld's speech. I find it interesting that there were 70 trackbacks to this post, and they never bothered to link to Rumsfeld's speech, nor analyze what he said. I wonder how many of those people ever read his arguments? My guess is, not many.

But more importantly, I wonder how many of those people really thought about what Mr. Olbermann was saying in that essay? Because someone was indeed called out. I'm not sure it was the Democrats:

The confusion is about whether this Secretary of Defense, and this administration, are in fact now accomplishing what they claim the terrorists seek: The destruction of our freedoms, the very ones for which the same veterans Mr. Rumsfeld addressed yesterday in Salt Lake City, so valiantly fought.

Let me stop right here. How dare he?

Mr. Olbermann, in his essay, said Donald Rumsfeld's speech demanded the sober contemplation of every American. As the wife of a career Marine, the mother of a police officer who is devoting his life to protecting Americans, and the daughter of a career Naval officer, let me suggest that Mr. Olbermann's speech demands the sober contemplation of every American, if only because it is evident to me that a great number of people both approve and agree with him. You do not have to agree with me, I would ask that you do me the courtesy of hearing me out, even if my words upset you.

Mr. Olbermann has just suggested that the United States military, composed of enlisted men, commissioned officers, and noncommissioned officers, (many of whom have postgraduate degrees) who have sworn an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution with their lives, are either so evil or so stupid that they are helping this administration destroy your freedoms here at home.

Think about that for a second. The military aren't all overseas. Many of them are here, stateside. They read the papers. Many of them are lawyers. Some of them [shudder] are even Democrats. Yes, that was a joke. And yet, as this nation is slowly sliding down the otter slide to hell, they are silently allowing your freedoms (and theirs) to be stolen by Darth Rummy and the evil Bush administration, in violation of their sworn duty. And only one man: Keith Olbermann, Bloggerman, stands between us and the New Fascism that threatens to o'ershadow us all.

Mein Gott im Himmell, will the Reichpublic survive? Stay tuned. We hear MSNBC has the exclusive:

And about Mr. Rumsfeld’s other main assertion, that this country faces a “new type of fascism.”

As he was correct to remind us how a government that knew everything could get everything wrong, so too was he right when he said that -- though probably not in the way he thought he meant it.

This country faces a new type of fascism - indeed.

Although I presumptuously use his sign-off each night, in feeble tribute, I have utterly no claim to the words of the exemplary journalist Edward R. Murrow.

But never in the trial of a thousand years of writing could I come close to matching how he phrased a warning to an earlier generation of us, at a time when other politicians thought they (and they alone) knew everything, and branded those who disagreed: “confused” or “immoral.”

Thus, forgive me, for reading Murrow, in full:

“We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty,” he said, in 1954. “We must remember always that accusation is not proof, and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law.

“We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men, not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate, and to defend causes that were for the moment unpopular.”

Once again, Olbermann has tarred, indirectly, this administration with the brush of McCarthyism. But he is wrong to do so. The First Amendment does not protect speakers from opposing speech. It does not protect us from disagreement, ridicule, or feelings of humiliation when our arguments don't meet with instant approbation. It does not protect us from unreasonable fears of government oppression that has not materialized, but (we keep telling ourselves) could appear at any moment if we are not allowed the delicious thrill of repeating on national television that the President is a jackbooted thug who looks disturbingly like a Chimpanzee.

What men like Olbermann don't seem to understand is that the Bill of Rights doesn't guarantee that others will listen to us. It does not guarantee a lock on the podium, though apparently they fervently desire a world where they could express their viewpoints all day long and no one on the other side of the fence was allowed to riposte, because any response from government to their ideas, by definition, is tyranny, marginalization, and oppression if it causes them, subjectively, to feel bad about themselves, if it causes a "chilling effect".

Donald Rumsfeld, in that speech so few of the chorus of the outraged bothered to link to or (I suspect) read, specifically objected to certain practices of the mainstream media:

It's a strange time:

When a database search of America's leading newspapers turns up literally 10 times as many mentions of one of the soldiers who has been punished for misconduct -- 10 times more -- than the mentions of Sergeant First Class Paul Ray Smith, the first recipient of the Medal of Honor in the Global War on Terror;

Or when a senior editor at Newsweek disparagingly refers to the brave volunteers in our armed forces -- the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Marines, the Coast Guard -- as a "mercenary army;"

When the former head of CNN accuses the American military of deliberately targeting journalists; and the once CNN Baghdad bureau chief finally admits that as bureau chief in Baghdad, he concealed reports of Saddam Hussein's crimes when he was in charge there so that CNN could keep on reporting selective news;

And it's a time when Amnesty International refers to the military facility at Guantanamo Bay -- which holds terrorists who have vowed to kill Americans and which is arguably the best run and most scrutinized detention facility in the history of warfare -- as "the gulag of our times." It’s inexcusable. (Applause.)

Those who know the truth need to speak out against these kinds of myths and distortions that are being told about our troops and about our country. America is not what's wrong with the world. (Applause.)

The struggle we are in -- the consequences are too severe -- the struggle too important to have the luxury of returning to that old mentality of “Blame America First.”

It is telling - telling indeed - that the Associated Press report of Rumsfeld's speech (in which he complained about media distortion) itself shamelessly distorted his remarks and had to be corrected, thus rather eloquently underscoring his point.

It is precisely this type of thing, as well as remarks like those of Senator Ted Kennedy, who said of our own military, "Saddam's torture chambers have reopened under U.S. management.", that caused Rumseld to say that some of the administration's opponents are intellectually and morally confused.

And frankly it's hard to believe that the vast majority of ordinary Americans, even those who oppose the war, really believe this type of nonsense. I hope - I pray - they don't. Yet Olbermann wrongly throws everything into the same confused, jumbled basket.

When you break his argument down, it amounts to this:

Bush and company aren't the historical equivalent of Churchill, who recognized the threat of a fascist and totalitarian regime and rallied, against the will of most of the "international community", a coalition to oppose Hitler. No, he's the historical equivalent of Neville Chamberlain, a man who argued that violence was never the answer, who refused to allow unilateral action without the comforting blanket of consensus, who didn't see the threat until it was too late. In fact, Chamberlain didn't lock up his opponents either. There may have been some unpleasant "speech" back then too, but old Winston Churchill didn't get his knickers in a twist when he was "demonized" by his intellectual or political opponents. He just fired back.

And in case you missed that neato analogy at the end, Olbermann himself bids fair be a patch on Edgar R. Murrow, who Spoke Truth To Glower during the McCarthy era, when there were all those horrid Star Chambers going on.... of course there's nothing even remotely like that happening today.

But there could be.

There could be. And only one man stands between us and that awful, awful destiny. Keith Olbermann: Bloggerman.

This is what bothers me, in the end, about pieces like Olbermann's.

He writes well: really, really well. I wanted to get up and cheer at the end of his little screed. But when you started to pick apart what it was he had really said, the whole house of cards really started to fall apart. He doesn't quote any of Donald Rumsfeld's words. He doesn't directly address any of Rumsfeld's ideas.

All is indirection and recharacterization, and that makes it far too easy to mislead and confuse the issues; to conflate one thing unfairly with another. And to tell the truth, most people are far too busy to sit down and patiently untangle the issues and ideas and think through the tangled muddle. There is no guarantee that I have gotten it right; this is simply my take, from my admittedly biased perspective. But there are an awful lot of flaws in Mr. Olbermann's essay, and I suspect that due to his fluid writing style and the lack of specific references to Mr. Rumsfeld's ideas, most people missed a very important point: Rumsfeld's speech, though you may disagree with it, was far more nuanced than Keith Olbermann or many commenters and pundits who linked to it may realize.

But I find this is so often the case with current events. We see each day through a glass, darkly. It is only at some time in the future that blessed clarity comes, like a benison, to sort out the warp from the weft; the significant from that which is of no importance; and at last with those irrelevancies brushed away we are able to pick out the shining threads - the connections - that were there all along.

But for the present, it's as though we had mislaid our reading glasses again. Our vision is hopelessly blurred by too many opinions, news stories, emotions, too many arguing voices. And that is a very sad thing, at least to me.

Note: Anytime I write something like this, I almost feel like it is begging for Democrat or liberal-bashing.

Just for once, I would like not to see that in the comments section, OK? :)

We all get frustrated with the other side. They get frustrated with us. Of course, we're both right (or reich) - the other side exhibits extreme suckitude and should have their right to vote taken away until such time as they can pass an IQ test, as evidenced by willingness to vote for the candidate of our choice. But to a certain extent, a lot of things that go on in America in the political arena are human failings, not liberal/conservative ones.

And this weekend, the HVES is feeling like a lover, not a fighter. OK?

Posted by Cassandra at 06:12 AM | Comments (33)

August 30, 2006

The Path to 9/11

Little Miss Attila has the scoop on what sounds like the first honest portrayal on 9/11 to hit the airwaves. Check out her site to find out when it will air.

A little teaser from her link:

This is the first Hollywood production I’ve seen that honestly depicts how the Clinton administration repeatedly bungled the capture of Osama Bin Laden. One astonishing sequence in “The Path to 9/11″ shows the CIA and the Northern Alliance surrounding Bin Laden’s house in Afghanistan. They’re on the verge of capturing Bin Laden, but they need final approval from the Clinton administration in order to go ahead. They phone Clinton, but he and his senior staff refuse to give authorization for the capture of Bin Laden, for fear of political fall-out if the mission should go wrong and civilians are harmed. National Security Adviser Sandy Berger in essence tells the team in Afghanistan that if they want to capture Bin Laden, they’ll have to go ahead and do it on their own without any official authorization. That way, their necks will be on the line - and not his. The astonished CIA agent on the ground in Afghanistan repeatedly asks Berger if this is really what the administration wants. Berger refuses to answer, and then finally just hangs up on the agent. The CIA team and the Northern Alliance, just a few feet from capturing Bin Laden, have to abandon the entire mission. Bin Laden and Al Qaeda shortly thereafter bomb the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, killing over 225 men, women, and children, and wounding over 4000. The episode is a perfect example of Clinton-era irresponsibility and incompetence.

The miniseries also has a scene in which the CIA has crucial information identifying some of the 9/11 hijackers in advance of 9/11, but refuses to share the information with the FBI because of the “wall” put up by certain Democrat officials to prevent information sharing between government agencies. The CIA is depicted as sitting in a meeting with the FBI (with John O’Neil present), and showing the FBI surveillance photos of terrorism suspects - some of whom will later turn out to be the 9/11 hijackers. The CIA asks the FBI for help in identifying the men in the photos, but refuses to give the FBI any of the information they have on who the men are. John O’Neil protests that it’s impossible for the FBI to help the CIA identify the men if they won’t provide any information whatsoever on them. When O’Neil tells the FBI to keep the photos so they can at least work on them, the CIA becomes hostile to O’Neil and takes the photos back. Tragically, John O’Neil himself will later die in the 9/11 attacks, in part because agencies like the CIA refused to share crucial information like this. Scenes like these really challenge the prevailing liberal media and Hollywood mindset by showing that the Patriot Act’s information-sharing and surveillance provisions are crucial to the safety of this country, and that political correctness and bureaucratic inefficiency are Islamic terrorism’s greatest friend.

Interested? You should be. Click the link. Tell a friend. Spread the word. Support this.

Posted by Cassandra at 05:23 PM | Comments (11)

August 24, 2006

NY TimesWatch: Lies, Damned Lies, And Statistics

Gateway Pundit piles on to the NY Times article we took great exception to last week:

Last week the New York Times wrote that "the insurgency in Iraq has gotten worse by almost all measures":
Bombs Aimed at G.I.’s in Iraq Are Increasing

WASHINGTON, Aug. 16 — ..."The insurgency has gotten worse by almost all measures, with insurgent attacks at historically high levels," said a senior Defense Department official who agreed to discuss the issue only on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak for attribution.

But, Back Talk took at a look at 7 month trends and found a very different picture of Iraq.

Funny how that works, isn't it? Looking at all the data instead of cherry-picking monthly statistics to argue a predetermined political point often yields interesting results. Last week we noted several flaws in the Times' rather novel analysis, among them the deliberate choice of January's wounded numbers as a comparison point (you had to go clear back to February of 2004 to find a lower monthly total) and the shift to the number of bombs planted as a measure of violence (we noted this was fairly worthless without a corresponding measure of effectiveness, as the point of planting bombs is generally to kill or wound the enemy).

Alert readers will recall the Times quoted one of its vast stable of DOD experts, who invariably speak "only on condition of anonymity" because they are "not authorized to speak for attribution". Roughly translated, this means they are talking out of school. This is how readers of the Times know we are dealing with a Reliable Source.

After all, they have violated the terms of their employment contract to speak with a reporter, and anyone so willing to go back on their word obviously demonstrates the flexible urban sensibilities for which the Times is justly famed. But should any further verification be needed, never fear: the Times provides ample backup for its anonymous sourcing:

A separate, classified report by the Defense Intelligence Agency, dated Aug. 3, details worsening security conditions inside the country and describes how Iraq risks sliding toward civil war, according to several officials who have read the document or who have received a briefing on its contents.

Of course there is one slight problem. We can't actually see this report, so the Times has "verified" an Anonymous Source we're not sure we can trust by citing an Anonymous Report we can't see. Because it's classified, you see. Come to think of it, we're not really sure why any of the Times' other Anonymous Sources are talking about this report either. Aren't there laws about leaking defense documents? Not to worry, we've obviously forgetten about that blanket First Amendment exception which allows members of the media to selectively declassify national security information at will. Our bad.

Like FauxNews, the half vast editorial staff here at VC try to be fair and balanced. We don't pretend that everything in Baghdad is hunky dory, or that the insurgents are throwing roses at the Coalition forces as they drive through the streets. We know, for instance, that attacks on ordinary Iraqis are increasing, and this alarms us greatly. But the implications of this startling fact are something the Times never quite seem to examine either.

In war, one attacks the enemy. What does it say that the insurgency is, to a large extent, focusing the brunt of its fury, not on coalition forces, but on the Iraqi people themselves? It says that they recognize that the greatest danger to the insurgency is not US forces, nor the IA/IP, but ordinary Iraqis. They are the Enemy. They are what must be defeated if the insurgency is to prevail.

And it also goes without saying (though we can't quite restrain ourselves from saying it anyway) that if attacks on those who are trying to protect the Iraqis are decreasing, it can't really be said that things are getting worse in Iraq by almost all measures, can it? Especially if you believe the NYT and the insurgency is, in fact, concentrating 70% of their effort on US troops and IED attacks are, in fact the deadliest of all attacks.

All of these things can't be true at the same time. It just doesn't make sense. Unless of course you're the New York Times, and you insist on quoting anonymous Pentagon sources who cite selected statistics from classified documents we can't see and can't check. It certainly makes it difficult to sort out fact from fiction.

Posted by Cassandra at 06:14 AM | Comments (2)

August 21, 2006

Faith and Commitment

This is a difficult post, one I have misgivings about publishing. For the past week I've been trying to decide whether there is any real value to anything I've done for the past two and a half years. I am still not sure what the answer to that question is.

All I know is that I am more troubled than I have felt at any point I can remember. I sit down to write in the morning and more often than not I feel sick. And angry. Very angry. That is not a place I want to be. I have always striven to bring some degree of objectivity, of distance, to my writing despite the admittedly strong feelings and convictions I bear towards the subjects I write about.

I am not sure I can do that anymore. And if I can't do that, I don't see how I can continue to write.

I no longer recognize the America I thought I knew, that I have worked so hard to support in the way I thought best. The country I love, the one I taught my sons to revere, is described lyrically by (of all things) a foreigner:

The Americans are more old-fashioned than us, and what is equally admirable, they are not ashamed of being old-fashioned. They know Churchill was a great man, so they put his house on the map. There is a kind of Englishman to whom this sort of behaviour seems painfully unsophisticated.

We are inclined, in our snobbish way, to dismiss the Americans as a new and vulgar people, whose civilisation has hardly risen above the level of cowboys and Indians. Yet the United States of America is actually the oldest republic in the world, with a constitution that is one of the noblest works of man. When one strips away the distracting symbols of modernity - motor cars, skyscrapers, space rockets, microchips, junk food - one finds an essentially 18th-century country. While Europe has engaged in the headlong and frankly rather immature pursuit of novelty - how many constitutions have the nations of Europe been through in this time? - the Americans have held to the ideals enunciated more than 200 years ago by their founding fathers.

The sense of entering an older country, and one with a sterner sense of purpose than is found among the flippant and inconstant Europeans, can be enjoyed even before one gets off the plane. On the immigration forms that one has to fill in, one is asked: "Have you ever been arrested or convicted for an offence or crime involving moral turpitude?" Who now would dare to pose such a question in Europe? The very word "turpitude" brings a smile, almost a sneer, to our lips.

This part brought a smile to my face, too. I'm not a fool. I realize it is, to some degree, a fanciful notion. We are not, really, that old-fashioned anymore. But there is a grain of truth to the description and we are, after all, speaking not of absolutes but of degrees - of the comparison between America and Europe. And America is different from the rest of the world. That is what made us, to generations of immigrants, to those huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the Golden Mountain. It is what made us the City on the Hill: a beacon of freedom, opportunity, and prosperity even with all our manifest failings.

At any rate, that passage reminded me of countless childhood hours spent reading the classics - of pouring over stories of ancient Greeks visiting the rustic Romans, whom they found unbearably quaint, almost stuffy in their regard for integrity and simple living. But Rome was then still a Republic and Roman matrons were still virtuous and relatively chaste. Not for them the licentious revels and corrupt politics of later years. Rome had not yet replaced integrity and stern conviction with that special brand of defeatism and attenuated cynicism that passes for sophistication in more 'advanced' cultures. But it was this section that tore at my heart:

The Americans are prepared to use force in pursuit of what they regard as noble aims. It is yet another respect in which they are rather old-fashioned. They are patriots who venerate their nation and their flag.

The idea has somehow gained currency in Britain that America is an essentially peaceful nation. Quite how this notion took root, I do not know. Perhaps we were unduly impressed by the protesters against the Vietnam war.

It is an idea that cannot survive a visit to the National Museum of American History in Washington, where one is informed that the "price of freedom" is over and over again paid in blood.

The Americans' tactics in Iraq, and their sanction for Israel's tactics in Lebanon, have given rise to astonishment and anger in Europe. It may well be that those tactics are counter-productive, and that the Americans and Israelis need to take a different approach to these ventures if they are ever to have any hope of winning hearts and minds.

But when the Americans speak of freedom, we should not imagine, in our cynical and worldly-wise way, that they are merely using that word as a cloak for realpolitik. They are not above realpolitik, but they also mean what they say.

These formidable people think freedom is so valuable that it is worth dying for.

What put that lump in my throat and what continues to worry at me day and night, is that a small part of America still believes in this ideal, still possesses this purity of vision. But it is dwindling daily, being replaced by a 'smarter', more effete nation that believes in nothing whole heartedly. That will commit to no promise, will see no course of action through to the bitter end. That finds, paradoxically, wisdom in expediency and intellectual honesty in being morally flexible when the going gets tough. That eschews idealism for the new God of the 21st Century Man: realism.

I have, on more than one occasion, been accused of being a Pollyanna. But I come by this honestly. Americans have justly prided themselves on being a naive people. We open our hearts and our pocketbooks, without reservation or suspicion. There are worse faults. If one were to pick a phrase to describe the American character, one would almost have to say that as a people we have a boundless faith, an almost limitless optimism. We believe in the power of the human spirit to overcome adversity, we believe in God, in that crazy 'melting pot' that is American culture, in that great experiment called democracy.

In fact, if I had to pick one of my favorite posts it would probably be this one, called (unsurprisingly) Democracy, The Glorious Dream. I have written better ones. I have written few that came more from my heart; from what makes me get up at 4 am every day and pound away at my keyboard like a madwoman.

About a year ago I was sitting at the dinner table with friends, Democrats, which is not uncommon since many of our closest friends are Democrats. We like to argue with them as a spur to the digestion. It was just before I wrote that piece and largely inspired it. The subject of American exceptionalism and the war came up. The conversation grew somewhat heated, and I tried to explain why I think it so vitally important the United States not do as so many of the Jeffersonian stripe would have us do: firmly push our heads into the sand as though we lived in some 18th Century isolationist utopia that no longer exists. In truth, I am not sure it ever did exist. It was just easier to blind ourselves to the evil that men do, back then. To isolate ourselves, to live in our own little worlds and say "this doesn't touch me".

Perhaps we could afford that kind of dangerous naivety in an age without jetliners and nuclear bombs, but it strikes me as almost unbearably funny that the few remaining champions of American exceptionalism are accused of "unrealism". To some, there is nothing more realistic, and nothing more "worth it", than backing our ideals with American sweat, blood, tears, and treasure.

Sitting at the table that night I tried to explain that nature abhors a vacuum. There is always a balance of power in the world, and if we do not stand up for what we believe in, the space we leave will be quickly filled by someone else. The question then becomes, who? Surely not Europe: Europe has been in the process of disarming itself for at least a generation. What good was internationalism at Srebenica?

If I shrink in horror when I hear statements like this from conservatives, what must the rest of the world be thinking? "Oh, bringing democracy to the Middle East is fine in principle, but in practice it has been FUBAR so now we must consider more realistic alternatives." Odd how those more realistic alternatives always seem to involve doing nothing or retreating to an 'over the horizon' position, from whence we can safely tut-tut and do nothing while everything goes to hell in a hand basket while we maintain comfortable but competent (and above all realistic) deniability.

In today's Washington Post, Iraq's ambassador to the US delivers a stern and much-needed rebuke:

As the debate on Iraq rages on, we hear more and more voices that call for throwing in the towel and leaving the mess to Iraqis to sort out. A new and unexpected proponent of this argument is Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, who said in a recent column that it's time for "Plan B." Only a few months before, he was arguing that it would be time for the United States to pack up and go only "when we don't see Iraqis taking the risk to build a progressive Iraq." Now, under the weight of bad news from Baghdad, he seems ready to abandon those very same brave men and women fighting valiantly to establish peace and justice in Iraq. I am an admirer of Friedman, who is generally thoughtful, well informed and supportive, but in this case he and many like him have gone dangerously off-track.

What has made the past three years hugely more difficult and complicated is the fact that we all underestimated the determination of our opponents and some of our neighbors to undermine this new project. In the context of a global confrontation, this has pitched our fledgling democracy onto the front line of a monumental struggle. It is these outside forces, allied with Saddamists, other terrorists and regular criminals, that threaten to overwhelm us.

To argue that American withdrawal from Iraq would create a "huge problem for Iran" is disingenuous. Iran is fairly secure within its borders. Any problems in Iraq will be for Iraqis to suffer. If there is a collapse and a civil war in Iraq, it is Iran's proxies who will do the fighting, and when the dust settles these proxies will most likely end up with the oil-rich southern region of Iraq -- a significant strategic gain for Iran.

There would also be the psychological impact of the perceived defeat for America. That would encourage all the enemies of the United States -- and they are many -- to be bolder and readier to challenge its interests everywhere. A new super-radical, geographically contiguous bloc would be born: Iran, Syria and a radicalized, totalitarian, fragmented Iraq.

As for the argument that the very presence of the foreign forces is a source of tension and that their departure would remove a prime source of violence: It may appear plausible at first glance, but it is in fact without merit. We need to understand precisely who is ready to fight to drive foreign forces out; it is only the Saddamists and the religious extremists (al-Qaeda and the like). If U.S. forces are in fact withdrawn, these people will consider it a victory and go on fighting even harder to achieve control over the country.

Since when has America had to be reminded to support democracy? Since when have we had to be reminded not to desert the weak and the defenseless, not to renege on our promises? Why, oh why in all the tiresome Iraq=Vietnam comparisons, does no one trouble to remember the slaughter that followed the fall of Saigon? Or is what happens when a "realistic" Congress pulls the rug out from our allies just another lesson we are determined to sweep into the dustbin of history?

I am sorry, but I am disgusted beyond measure with my own party.

The most dangerous form of "unrealism", from where I'm sitting, is the inability to deal with frustration, to understand that policy is rarely implemented in a vacuum. It is the carping, niggling, wheedling criticism of pundits who've never had to work out the practical details of the ideas they expound every day, nor compromise their lofty principles in a democratic society where no one agrees on anything and everyone is a Monday morning quarterback. It's the unbelievable arrogance that allows bloviating bloggers to sit back and calmly debate whether America ought to install a "stong man" in Iraq, as though freedom were some particularly gaudy bauble we had bestowed on Those People but had decided they weren't really ready for.

Or perhaps we ought to ignore the Constitution the Iraqis just came out and risked their lives to vote for, and set aside lives of the over 2500 American men and women who've died so far to breathe life into it, and simply slice up their country like some obscene pizza pie; as though Turkey would stand for two seconds for an independent Kurdistan and Iraq's neighbors wouldn't immediately begin picking at the pieces of her corpse like vultures. Doubtless Iraqis and American war widows alike can comfort themselves with the knowledge that it was nothing personal. Their sacrifices have been duly noted, but it's all part of the New Realism that is all the rage amongst the Georgetown set.

George Will thinks John Kerry was right. He thinks the law enforcement approach was the way to go after all. In an almost unbelievable triumph of hope over experience he cites the success of the recent disruption of the London plot.

Has he been reading any American newspapers lately? Has he, perhaps, read about the latest ruling on the NSA wiretapping case, one so poorly reasoned that even opponents of government wiretapping are scratching their heads over it? Did he miss the outing of the SWIFT program, exactly the kind of program John Kerry was describing when he said combating terrorism was "primarily an intelligence and law enforcement operation that requires cooperation around the world." Perhaps it escaped Mr. Will's notice that such cooperation is endangered (to put it mildly) when the NY Times outs even programs it called for in the aftermath of 9/11. Or maybe the rather startling gap between the freewheeling press and bill of rights in America and those of, say, Pakistan or England are minor details he feels can be safely ignored.

The truth is I've had it about up to here with words and the criticisms of those who are only satisfied with perfectly fought wars and governments who never make mistakes, though those two commodities don't seem to exist in any history book I've ever read. Words don't win wars. Two things win wars.

Faith. And commitment. No one really doubts we have the resources to win in Iraq. We are the world's largest superpower. Right now if you walk though the halls of the Pentagon (and this is a point seldom made when the weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth starts on Capitol Hill), though members of all services are represented in the War on Terror (and they serve bravely and well), there are only two services who are wearing cammies: the Army and the Marines. That is because only two services are full-on at war. We are not yet strained to the breaking point. If we had to, we could do more.

And if you are one of those who are angry at government for not convincing you to sacrifice, for not spoon-feeding you commitment, for not soothing your doubts and fears, what is keeping you from sacrificing, from getting involved, from being informed, from motivating yourself? We live in an information age. So many people are doing good work: Semper Fi Fund, Project Valour IT, Purple Heart Foundation, Homes for our Troops. Any one of them would be glad to hear from you, or to have your help.

And Brian, I hate like hell to do this, because I will treasure your kind remark until the day I die, but I have to say this:

My love affair with the written word is just about at an end. Words are easy, and they have never won any war that I can remember, and George Will and his "farrago of caricature and non sequitur" can kiss this Marine wife's rosy pink ass.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:10 AM | Comments (60)

August 19, 2006

Something Truly Radical

Max Boot weighs what he calls "radical strategies" for securing Baghdad:

If the present strategy doesn't work, what's the alternative? The most radical course would be a total U.S. withdrawal. The likely result would be an all-out civil war in which Iraqi casualties could easily soar to 1,000 a day and the price of oil could go above $100 a barrel. Proposals to carve up Iraq into three separate states — Sunni, Shiite and Kurd — would not ameliorate the violence because major cities such as Baghdad, Mosul and Kirkuk are full of different religious and ethnic groups that would fight for control.

THINGS MIGHT ultimately work out if the current, moderate Shiite leadership were to prevail. But the more likely result would be the empowerment of radicals on both sides, with someone like Muqtada Sadr taking over in Baghdad and a rump, Taliban-style Sunni state being carved out of western Iraq. U.S. prestige would be deeply wounded, and Islamist terrorists would be encouraged to keep attacking us outside Iraq.

No wonder almost all Iraqi political factions are opposed to a U.S. pullout. They know what horrors would ensue.

It's funny how seldom we hear that last truth echoed on Capitol Hill, though it managed to penetrate even the pages of the New York Times a few weeks ago. The fact is that the last thing the Sunnis want now is for US forces to leave. We are their best protection because, for many Iraqis, we have come to represent stability and the rule of law:

Hamid Ayad could not forget the last time U.S. soldiers came to his door two years ago. They tossed smoke bombs and burst into his home, then arrested his four brothers, he said. They were later jailed at Abu Ghraib prison.

Three days ago, another group of U.S. soldiers came to his home in the volatile western Baghdad neighborhood of Amiriyah, this time accompanied by Iraqi troops. The U.S. soldiers politely asked if they could enter his large home. They asked to register his family's eight cars, and they did not confiscate the family's AK-47 rifle, their only means of protection.

That made Ayad, 24, feel more confident about the Iraqi soldiers. Only two months ago, Shiite Iraqi soldiers on patrols in Amiriyah taunted Sunnis like him, he said. They did little to shield residents from the sectarian clashes strangling their lives. But on this day, the Iraqi soldiers he met were courteous and seemed genuinely concerned.

"Their image has changed," said Ayad, who holds a business degree but is unemployed. "Now, you feel like they are there to protect you. They are not acting or faking. The Americans have them on a tight leash."

A lot has changed in Iraq, but you rarely hear that in the stale rhetoric of politicians about how we can't seem to adapt. The fact is that we're constantly adapting, constantly changing tactics, just as the terrorists do. And what the Post describes, oddly, is precisely the kind of operation Boot calls for later in his editorial; only it would seem we're already doing it and, more surprisingly, the Washington Post has chosen to cover it in a wonderful three page article that shows the media don't only write bad news about the war.

But the important thing to note, given the fragile confidence established by this operation, is how vital it is NOT to draw down our forces yet. That is exactly the wrong thing to do at this point. As Boot has pointed out, no one - except perhaps the terrorists - wants us to leave. What we are doing - and this is important - is handing over security operations to the Iraqis and changing the focus to assisting them : making sure they are conducting security sweeps properly with dignity and respect for the rule of law, rather than conducting the operations ourselves. This is what will, in the long run, establish confidence in Iraqi institutions. But that is going to take time. Boot, on the other hand, calls for a drawdown of US forces:

But there's another course short of withdrawal: reducing U.S. forces from today's level of 130,000 to under 50,000 and changing their focus from conducting combat operations to assisting Iraqi forces. The money saved from downsizing the U.S. presence could be used to better train and equip more Iraqi units. A smaller U.S. commitment also would be more sustainable over the long term. This is the option favored within the U.S. Special Forces community, in which the dominant view is that most American soldiers in Iraq, with their scant knowledge of the local language and customs, are more of a hindrance than a help to the counterinsurgency effort.

Make no mistake: This is a high-risk strategy. The drawdown of U.S. troops could catalyze the Iraqis into getting their own house in order, or it could lead to a more rapid and violent disintegration of the rickety structure that now exists.

There is some evidence the visible partnering of US troops with Iraqi patrols who take the lead is effective in building confidence. We may have found the right force mix. Note the new determination to eliminate sectarian loyalities from the IA. From the Post story:

After searching more than 6,000 homes and buildings, the soldiers confiscated only 28 unauthorized guns and 47 hand grenades and arrested eight suspects.

"It doesn't matter how many guns we found," Col. Robert Scurlock Jr., commander of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, told reporters Wednesday. "It gave people the confidence in the Iraqi army and security forces. And we will continue to build that trust."

The Iraqi army is seen by many Sunni residents as sympathetic to Shiite militias, such as the Mahdi Army, linked to radical anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

Ayad recalled an attack last month when gunmen ambushed a bus in Amiriyah and killed six passengers and the driver, then set the vehicle ablaze. Like many in his neighborhood, he believed that the Mahdi Army orchestrated the attack -- and that the Iraqi soldiers there to protect the neighborhood looked the other way.

"The burned bus is still there," said Ayad. "The Iraqi army had two checkpoints, but they didn't stop" the gunmen. "On the contrary, they were cooperating with the Mahdi Army and allowed them to enter our neighborhood. I didn't trust the Iraqi army then."

Brig. Gen. Abdul Jaleel Kahlaiaf, commander of the Iraqi army's 1st Brigade, 6th Division, said he was determined to erase such perceptions. Iraq's Defense Ministry, he told reporters in Amiriyah, is now requiring all recruits to sign a pledge that "they should be loyal to Iraq, not a sect."

"Those soldiers who have a sectarian bias will not stay with us," he said in a room at Amiriyah's municipal office.

During Operation Together Forward, US forces deliberately stayed in the background:

The photos included an Iraqi soldier in brown camouflage holding the hand of a trusting, smiling boy on a Baghdad street.

U.S. and Iraqi commanders tried to spread that image in Amiriyah. The four-day operation began on Sunday with U.S. and Iraqi troops conducting door-to-door searches; the Iraqis were often given the lead role.

"The intent was to do it with dignity and respect for families," said Scurlock. Several "problem" mosques, where insurgents allegedly had stockpiled weapons, were taken over and "now we've posted guards and returned them back to the people," he added. They also registered guns and created a census of the residents

The impact on the violence was immediate. Residents said they didn't hear a single gunshot or mortar explosion, and by Wednesday they were experiencing a rare calm.

A drive that day through the streets, in a heavily armed U.S. military convoy, revealed a neighborhood of silent streets blocked with razor coil and shuttered shops. The few souls outside stared blankly at U.S. Humvees cruising by slowly.

"Since we began the operation, not one person from Amiriyah has died, not one act of violence has occurred," Scurlock said.

Many residents wonder how long the peace will last. The U.S. military will soon give the Iraqi troops full responsibility again for the security of Amiriyah.

Already, the mistrust is creeping back.

Sheik Mohammed Faiz, the imam of the Sunni al-Abbas mosque, said he was wary of what he viewed as a U.S. military takeover of the mosques.

"The American forces kicked out the local guards from the five local mosques in Amiriyah and replaced them with fixed Iraqi soldiers in order to protect it," said Faiz. "We think they have those soldiers as eyes on the mosques, not to protect it but to monitor those who are getting in and out of the mosques."

Others are convinced that most of the insurgents had fled before the security clampdown and are planning a return as soon as the U.S. military pulls out.

"Amiriyah has become more quiet and more secure after the presence of the American forces, but once they leave, the area will return as it used to be," said Abdul Aziz al-Kubaissi, 55, another resident. "Al-Qaeda and the other insurgents fled with their weapons one day before the beginning of the operation."

That sense of unease is shared by Omar at Iraq the Model, who was encouraged by Operation Forward Together but worries about what will happen if such efforts are not maintained:

This sounds like encouraging news that the plan is going to deliver some positive results in extremely dangerous areas as al-Doura and the commanders are saying that similar operations will be repeated throughout the entire capital which is good, but I also have some concerns as to the durability of expected stability to be brought by this operation(s).

Later, he was happy to see the appearance of fortified checkpoints:

Instead of reinforcing checkpoints on the outer circle of Baghdad, US troops are installing concrete walls and creating designated gates around/at the entrance to localized areas where the troops alongside Iraqi forces conducted extensive cordon_and_search operations.

...Now this looks like a method that has good chances for success, and I believe the chances will be much better if US advisors keep an eye on the performance of the IP units manning these fortified check points.

It seems the common theme here is a strong continued partnership between the IA/IP and coalition forces. At the risk of talking about something I admittedly don't know much about, this is why India survived after the British left: they had a strong civil service and legal system left in place after decades of colonial rule.

It strikes me as naive beyond belief to think that we can just pull up stakes suddenly and expect the Iraqis to pull through when they have a malicious and active insurgency trying to undermine them at every turn. We may not like it, but we are in this for the long haul.

We've been training the IA, they are stepping up to the plate, and we are beginning to pull back and let them assume responsibility for their own security. But I continue to believe that we need to maintain a strong presence in the area and considering that Israel has had to deal with terrorism and terrorist acts for literally decades now, to pretend that the presence of insecurity is some barometer of impending disaster for any democracy in the Middle East rather than a normal condition for that region is really a bit rich. The truth is that democracy, especially in the Middle East, is something of a hothouse flower.

That does not mean it is no longer worth the candle, unless the United States is going to retreat from the world stage, close all our airports to incoming traffic, retire to some agrarian 18th century Jeffersonian fantasy world that no longer exists where we can place our heads firmly between our legs and bid our collective derrieres a fond adieu. The unpleasant truth is that in a world without borders, if we're not willing to fight for democracy we're likely to spend most of our time fending off attacks from the type of fundamentalist wacko who doesn't believe 'live and let live' is a winning philosophy.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:51 AM | Comments (15)

August 18, 2006

A Little Food For Thought

TigerHawk** points to a heartwarming little burst of anomie from (where else?) the New York Times which tells us, among other things, that attacks on U.S. troops are increasing as indicated by the Times' metric du jour (honestly, we find it almost impossible to keep up with the shifting baselines): the number of roadside bombs planted by the insurgency. We would not lie to you, dear readers:

The number of roadside bombs planted in Iraq rose in July to the highest monthly total of the war, offering more evidence that the anti-American insurgency has continued to strengthen despite the killing of the terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Along with a sharp increase in sectarian attacks, the number of daily strikes against American and Iraqi security forces has doubled since January. The deadliest means of attack, roadside bombs, made up much of that increase. In July, of 2,625 explosive devices, 1,666 exploded and 959 were discovered before they went off. In January, 1,454 bombs exploded or were found.

Fair enough. So the enemy is planting more bombs. We give them an "A" for effort.

Does the Times think to ask why the insurgency are planting more bombs as opposed to... oh, we don't know, attacking and attempting to hold territory, which last time we checked was the only way short of simply discouraging an occupying force into giving up and leaving (otherwise known as the "over-the-horizon strategy") to actually win a war? Could this possibly be a sign that they have conceded they can only win by making us lose heart? From where we sit that looks like desperation, unless of course we are seriously considering "strategic redeployment".

The Times proceeds to tell us that not only have the number of roadside bombs increased, but the vast majority of them are not aimed at either Iraqi patrols or innocent civilians:

An analysis of the 1,666 bombs that exploded in July shows that 70 percent were directed against the American-led military force, according to a spokesman for the military command in Baghdad. Twenty percent struck Iraqi security forces, up from 9 percent in 2005. And 10 percent of the blasts struck civilians, twice the rate from last year.

So what kind of result should alert readers logically expect from a campaign that concentrates 70% of the enemy's effort in a flurry of attacks whose number has doubled since January?

According to the Times, things are worse by every conceivable measure.... at least the ones they tell us about. How do we know this, dear readers? Because they are trying really, really hard. And of course it must logically follow as the night doth the day that all this manly effort must be bearing some fruit, no? Surely if the enemy are trying to kill US troops, US casualties should be UP dramatically, right?

gettingworse.gif

How about those IED casualties? You know, the deadliest kind? Oddly, the Times chose not to quote that metric either this month:

IED_deaths.gif

You can make statistics say all kinds of things. It's not hard to do, even for the folks at the Times. The thing about numbers is that they don't mean much, in and of themselves. And just a few short weeks ago it wasn't hard to find people saying pretty much the opposite of what the Times was saying yesterday:

"American troops are no longer the primary focus of the people perpetuating the violence inside Iraq. They have become a secondary target," said defense analyst Charles Pena, a senior fellow with George Washington University's Homeland Security Policy Institute.

In the past two years, only two months had lower U.S. death tolls than July.

It seems to me that either the Times doesn't know what it is talking about, or it is selectively quoting statistics to prove a predetermined non-point, much as they did back in March when that truck crashed and they couldn't wait to tell us that this was the worst month for US fatalities so far! (nevermind that most of them died from an overturned truck accident)

In light of this, I think we have no choice but to surrender in Iraq. But then, that is the point of all this effort, isn't it? Because if the Times is correct and the enemy is launching twice as many attacks and focusing 70% of their effort on US troops, yet seeing less of a payoff in the way of casualties than they were earlier in the war, what good is it doing them?

Well, there are really only two ways to win a war. Taking and holding territory.

And attrition.

And guess which one works better if you're a numerically and militarily inferior force up against a technologically superior force lead by a weak-willed, democratically elected government?

** You know, y'all could LET ME KNOW when I'm so full of bile that I forget to link to the main point of the post, you know :)

What if I can't stay
What if you can't stay
What if I can't leave
What if you can't leave?

What if I believed
Every word you say
What if you believed
Until today?

'Cause we rode it long,
We drove it hard
And we wrecked it
In our own backyard

What do we do now
What do we do now
What do we do now
What do we do now?

- John Hiatt

Update II: I think some people are missing the point of my post. Apparently I did not express myself well - I did not wish to belabor the point. I did not intend to imply that any of these charts prove we are winning the war.

My point was that the metrics presented by the Times are insufficient to prove that we have lost the war.

Citing the rather dubious measure of bombs planted, as I observed earlier, is an interesting metric. It does measure insurgent activity. But it is incomplete without a corresponding measure of effectiveness. The Times quotes a statistic:
70% of IEDs are ostensibly being aimed at US troops.

Presumbly the enemy is doing this for a reason. Therefore, we should expect to see a corresponding "bang for the buck", preferably something other than the number of white flags being run up on Capitol Hill.

Appropriate metrics might be US fatalities and wounded from IED attacks. TigerHawk's post stated US fatalities were "down slightly, but that is because we have hardened the target". He states American wounded are "way up". That premise would seem to be belied by this slide, which I prepared from statistics garned from globalsecurity:

Wounded2.gif

Note how the Times blithely skips over roughly eight months of wounded data, somewhat "arbitrary" picking January as a starting point. Do you notice anything about the month of January? It is a low point in the 18-month cycle: you have to go back to February of 2004 to find a lower data point. Interesting choice, huh? That ought to tell you something about the Times' methodology.

They are not going to show you the entire pattern because they do not want you to see the whole picture.

The other point is that the insurgents are expending double the amount of effort and getting a far less than proportional return on their investment, except in terms of what commenter DGF terms the irksome fact that they are killing some of us, which is hardly unexpected during wartime. Our numbers have remained essentially the same, their efforts have increased drastically, yet our casualties have declined.

I suppose it would be unbearably partisan of me to point out that attrition is a knife that can cut both ways? Because any time I observe that it's just possible that we aren't losing, somehow that gets twisted into saying I have declared "mission accomplished" and launched a ticker tape parade.

/snark :)

Posted by Cassandra at 08:51 AM | Comments (23)

August 15, 2006

Desert Lions

lions.jpg Taking care of business, old school:

BAGHDAD — Iraqi forces took control of another area of Baghdad on Monday after the latest in a series of transfer of authority ceremonies near the capital.

Army Col. Claude Ebel, commander of the 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division said responsibility for Forward Operating Base Mahmudiyah South, a base of operations for security forces south of the capital, was transferred to the 4th Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division, dubbed the Desert Lion Brigade. The Iraqi unit will have full responsibility for the Baghdad areas of Mahmudiyah and Rutifiyah, Ebel said.

“They’re a superb unit. They’re the most developed unit since we first arrived,” Ebel said of the Iraqi brigade.

“What really makes (the brigade) special is their soldiers. These are the sons of average Iraqi citizens who choose to fight for all of Iraq.”

Ebel said the brigade has taken initiative by bringing supplies to schools and clinics without Coalition prodding. He also said the brigade has been recognized for their good behavior and humane treatment of detainees.

“That’s a difficult task when you recognize that many of these individuals (detainees) actually tried to kill them,” the colonel said.

Army Lt. Col. Eric Conrad, the military transition team chief advising the Iraqi brigade, said Coalition troops and members of the brigade have been conducting operations together for some time.

“We’ve learned their culture and become brothers in arms. Once they get the resources and the confidence, they can do anything. Back in the United States we take a year to establish a new brigade. These guys are doing the same thing under combat conditions. It’s truly remarkable what they have been able to accomplish,” Conrad said.

Conrad gives a lion’s share of credit for the Iraqi unit’s success to Iraqi Army Col. Ali Jassim Mohammed Hassen Al-Ferajee, commander of the Desert Lion Brigade.

“These guys aren’t just sitting on (traffic control points). They’re also going out and doing offensive combat operations,” Conrad said.

But this is nothing new for the Desert Lions. They've been on the ramparts for some time now. Flash back to December, 2005 and the Iraqi elections:

The 4th Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division commander, Brig. Gen. Mahde Allami, said that he was pleased by the security provided on election day by his brigade, the so-called “Desert Lions.”

“This is a clear message to the terrorists and the evil forces,” he said through an interpreter.

“By the great effort of the Desert Lion soldiers, they secured the area and people came with confidence.”

But, he said he could not have accomplished such a feat without help from American forces.

“In my area, which is a very disturbed area, there are no other forces but my brigade and the friendly forces,” he said. “In Baghdad, they have the police force, the special forces, and then the third line of defense is the Iraqi army. Here, we’re the front line.”

They are no longer the third line of defense. Last year, a U.S. Army Major described Iraq as "baby-steps" land.

You've come a long way. Well done.

Via CENTCOM: one-stop shopping for all your tinfoil hat needs.
Seriously, good stuff if you are tired of the gloom-and-doom parade from the lamestream media. We're doing good work over there. Check them out.

Or I'll question your patriotism... heh :)

Posted by Cassandra at 03:09 PM | Comments (4)

August 13, 2006

The Lens Of History

When thinking about current events I find the greatest challenge is to place the overwhelming flow of news in proper perspective; to sift through the chatter for significant facts which, pieced together, lead to some meaningful conclusion. It's easy to get lost in the moment, to become distracted by the hype; to forget that things will look quite different in a month, six months, two years. That the lens of history provides a vastly different view of events is a theme I've touched on frequently in my writing. This idea is supported particularly well by two pieces found in the WaPo yesterday.

One, perhaps unsurprisingly, was written over two years ago to commemorate the death of Ronald Wilson Reagan, but it sends odd echoes (or ought to, if only we were listening) into the present day:

Reagan was, quite simply, a far more controversial figure in his time than the largely gushing obits on television would suggest.

He took a pounding in the press after his first tax cut when a deep recession pushed unemployment to 10 percent and drowned the budget in red ink.

He was widely portrayed as uninformed and uninterested in details, the man who said trees cause pollution and once failed to recognize his own housing secretary.

He was often described as lazy, "just an actor," a man who'd rather be clearing brush at his California ranch and loved a good midday nap.

His 1983 invasion of Grenada was not universally applauded -- especially after his spokesman told the press the day before that the idea was "preposterous" -- and his withdrawal of the Marines from Lebanon after 241 were killed in a bombing brought blistering editorials.

He was often depicted as a rich man's president with little feeling for the poor, as symbolized by the administration's "ketchup is a vegetable" school lunch debacle. Detractors said he was presiding over the "greed decade."

Journalists had a field day digging into administration corruption. Senior officials in the Environmental Protection Agency and Housing and Urban Development Department, along with ex-White House aide Michael Deaver and national security adviser Robert McFarlane, were convicted of various offenses. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger was indicted but later pardoned by the first President Bush.

Reagan's siding with the Nicaraguan rebels was enormously divisive, and negative coverage of the Iran-contra scandal devoured much of his second term. "Crisis Blemishing President's Hands-Off Style," said a 1986 Washington Post article by Lou Cannon, Reagan's biographer.

What the Great Communicator quickly figured out was that he could deliver his message over the heads of the Washington press corps -- often decried at the time as media "manipulation" but now an accepted staple of spin-laden politics.

Why was much of the coverage of Reagan so different from the way he is being revered today? Is it because many journalists were liberals appalled by his conservative philosophy? That may have been a factor, but something more fundamental is at work -- something also on display in the days after Richard Nixon's death, when Watergate was relegated to sidebar status.

There is a natural tendency in the media to say nice things after someone has died. But more important, a president's legacy looks very different 15 years after he leaves the White House, and following a long illness that took him out of the political wars. No one knew when Reagan stepped down that his military buildup would ultimately play a role in the demise of the "evil empire" he railed against. Critics denounced his legacy of record-shattering budget deficits, but in the resulting economic boom such shortfalls came to be viewed as less dramatic, another sign of how Reagan redefined the political debate.

The press, by its nature, tends to get down in the weeds of day-to-day controversies that envelop any president. But when the protagonist is off the stage and the camera pulls back, a brighter picture emerges and the setbacks tend to fade from memory. What is left are the big accomplishments and the inspirational qualities that Reagan brought to the office.

Howard Kurtz offers one view of Reagan - that of his political opponents. But most of the modern-day conservatives who now revere Reagan's memory are either too young, or choose not to recall, the controversy Reagan engendered even among his own party. They forget talk that he was senile, that he was simple-minded, that he was controlled by his advisors. That he wasn't a real conservative, that he was an embarrassment to the party. I was unable to find it, but years ago I remember seeing a reprise of a National Review piece from the 1980's contemplating the wisdom of a "conservative coup" to retake the White House. Truly there is nothing new under the sun.

Reading it, I couldn't help but recall the litany of grievances against the current administration. In fact, during Reagan's funeral, that very subject came up over at The Corner:

FAIR POINT RE BUSH & REAGAN [Jonah Goldberg] and one I should have made. From a reader:

You say that Bush and Reagan are a lot closer in ideology. How do you make that comparison? On tax cuts and some social issues I agree with you. However, on the biggest issue of them all, big government, Bush is clearly no Reagan. The idea of Reagan pushing for a massive new entitlement (prescription drugs) is laughable. This is why Bush is in so much trouble with his base. Posted at 03:46 PM

RE: BUSH AND REAGAN [Ramesh Ponnuru]
But didn't Reagan do exactly that in his last year of office? Indeed, the catastrophic health care plan that passed in 1988 included a prescription-drug benefit. Luckily, the thing was repealed a year later.

Plus ca change, plus la meme chose, n'est pas cheries? Unless, of course, we conveniently choose to stuff it down the old memory hole in the name of auld lang syne. Real life is never quite what we'd like it to be. As Joshus Muravchik points out, there is many a slip betwixt our grand theories and the oft-disappointing reality that results when they are put into practice:

...for neocons or any other conservatives to turn against George W. Bush would be a terrible mistake. Presidents invariably disappoint their strongest supporters. Their powers are limited, and they must cope with Congress, public opinion, unwieldy agencies and, where foreign policy is concerned, other nations that can help or hinder us. The results never match the elegance of the policies formulated by people like me, who grapple only with editors.

Neocons and other conservatives revere the memory of President Ronald Reagan now. But at the time, we weren't satisfied. "To say that neoconservatives [are] disappointed . . . understates the case to an incalculable degree," Norman Podhoretz, editor of the neocon flagship Commentary magazine, lamented about Reagan's foreign policy in 1982.

Reagan's anti-communist actions toughened in the years that followed, leading to victory in the Cold War. But on terrorism they remained equivocal. In 1983, when Hezbollah blew up our Beirut embassy and followed with a suicide bombing that killed 220 Marines, the president ordered our forces to abandon their peacekeeping mission and slink away unavenged. In his second term, Reagan committed the sin of appeasement, trading arms to Tehran for U.S. hostages.

The contrast between Reagan's courage toward the "evil empire" and his faintheartedness toward Middle Eastern terrorists underscores the magnificence of Bush's achievement in marshaling our country for a war against terrorism. Middle Eastern terrorists had been coldly murdering Americans for three decades, but from Nixon through Clinton, no president dared face the issue head-on. The fight promised to be too nasty, and it required a strategy for changing the politics and psychology of the Middle East, for which there was no guidebook. So each administration had contented itself with shaking a symbolic fist or issuing some subpoenas while leaving the problem to metastasize.

But Reagan's sins of omission in Tehran were quickly forgiven when the Berlin Wall came tumbling down. Only it's not Berlin, but Tehran which menaces us now.

How quickly we forget.

There is no way to know what kind of world Reagan's successors would have faced had he acted differently, then. Different times, different choices. But by the same token, the plethora of I-told-you-so authors who can't wait to announce the verdict of history in Iraq and Afghanistan without waiting for anything so tiresome as actual history to take place might care to take note: Dame Irony is always waiting in the wings for a final curtain call. It is far too soon to know with any certainty whether we are looking at a miserable failure or the dawning of something truly revolutionary in the Middle East: the birth of democracy, even if we do not recognize it in its present form.

I sometimes find it odd that the revisionist crowd who so lightly pronounce two hundred years of American history a capitalist, racist, patriarchal sham (but don't you dare question their love for America) cannot see that a nascent democracy might have some growing pains to work through, and yet might ultimately succeed:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,

I submit that in 1776, those words were not worth the parchment they were scribbled on. Utter and absolute rubbish.

They did not become real until nine long years of bloody, miserable warfare breathed life into them. They were purchased, truly, at the cost of incalculable human suffering.

Bloodshed. Starvation. Sickness. Injustice. Abuse. Ugliness. Imperfection of every sort imaginable. And as Ignatieff mentions at the beginning of his piece, they did not apply equally to every American for a long, long time. Not to the Irish, nor to women, nor to Jews, nor Catholics, nor blacks, nor non-landowners. But this experiment we call America truly did 'light a fire in the minds of men'. And that fire was seen from a great distance.

It became a beacon to others, even with all its imperfections, because it was better than what had come before. This glorious dream: this democracy. It remains an imperfectly-realized ideal, because humans are still flawed and we bring all our sins and weaknesses with us on this journey. But we are vastly improved for having reached beyond our baser selves, for having dared to dream. We are still improving. And so will the rest of the world, if we can find the courage and the resolve to help them. We are on a road to the stars, but we progress one faltering step at a time.

I submit that in 1776, the men who wrote those words could no sooner have imagined present-day America than we can imagine what the Middle East will look like in 2075.

Will it be free and democratic? Looking the impetus of history, I'd say the chances are good, no matter how dark things may seem to our present day eyes. But so often these days, we seem mired in the instant, our feet stuck in the quicksand of current events. That, and not the tragic legacy of Vietnam, is the quagmire we do not seem able to escape from: persistent amnesia. We have forgotten our own history.

And a generation which does not learn, which refuses to build on that which came before, threatens to be the first generation to accomplish less than its forebears. That would indeed be a miserable failure.

Posted by Cassandra at 10:08 AM | Comments (13)

July 31, 2006

Has Anyone Seen My Hope?

Today's epic foray into blissfully fact free punditry is brought to you courtesy of the letter D. Lest this arouse confusion in the readership, this would be the letter D as in Democrat.

Or, if you prefer, D as in "The Rethuglican Party is Doomed... doomed, we tell you, come November".

If foreign policy is more your metier, you may wish to substitute D for the Deeply Entrenched Fear and Loathing that rose from the rubble of the September 11 attacks, fully formed and majestical like Venus from her clam shell; rudely ending the halcyon days of bonhomie when enlightened nations like France and Germany dealt with America openly and honestly. Sadly, it appears that the jig is up.

Now that George Bush has single handedly harshed the pre-9/11 international mellow, we may have to learn to live with criticism from the EU. We realize this may be hard for some to imagine given Europe's long tradition of warmly embracing all things American. But even we cannot put lipstick on this particular pig.

First off, Craig Newmark points to this typically hyperbolic column by David Broder which employs two typically lefty techniques that manage to spin the HVES up every single time: argumentation by employing the illogical extreme and the Anonymous, But Completely Unrepresentative Man On The Street . Broder nearly does himself an injury in his rush to tell us that the RNC is in deep kimchee this fall.

Really? you ask.

The evidence is somewhat underwhelming. Broder's ABCUMOTS, a Southern Republican helpfully described as "one of the founders of the postwar Republican Party in the South" isn't happy with the White House. You have to love the subtle description. Hint: "founders of the postwar Republican Party in the South" is code for former Southern Democrat, a fancy way of saying "Psssst: this guy is a closet racist".

Which brings us to a whole 'nuther complaint about lefty arguments lately: veiled nastiness. We wish - we really do - that more people would just come right out with their insults. It saves so much time, and passive-aggressiveness has never been one of our favorite character traits. If a line of reasoning holds water, it will stand up to scrutiny. Make it, back it up with a well reasoned argument and a few facts and put it out there. Argument by insinuation, however, isn't much of an argument at all. What Mr. Broder has done, neatly, is insinuate his source is some kind of racist by association. And it's the oldest insinuation in the book: Broder tars him by association with Southern Democrats who blocked the Civil Rights Act of 1964. What Broder neatly doesn't mention is that a larger percentage of Republicans than Democrats voted for the Civil Rights Act. And what we can't know (because Broder doesn't bother to tell us) is his source's position on the Act then, or now. Not that this is relevant to the issue under discussion, in any event.

Broder goes on to tell us that his source is angry over the Bush administration's veto of stem cell legislation and lack of support for raising the minimum wage.

As Craig notes, neither of these issues is likely to find much traction within the Republican party, so it's hard to see why this particular source's angst signals trouble for the party in 2008. So far as anyone can tell, he is clearly outside the mainstream. But an observation like that comes perilously close to violating the emotional truths which drive essays like Broder's - he felt storm clouds gathering for the RNC, so clearly they must be.

200px-Liberators-Kultur-Terror-Anti-Americanism-1944-Nazi-Propaganda-Poster.jpg Meanwhile, Thom Friedman has redoubled his efforts to combat the irrational surfeit of optimism that has been gripping the nation recently:

...when we go from a country that, historically, has always exported hope to a country that always exports fear, what we do, and what this administration has done, is actually stolen something from people. Whether it’s an African or a European or an Arab or Israeli, it’s that idea of an optimistic America out there. People really need that idea, and the sort of dark nature of the Cheneys and the Bushes and the Rices, this, this sort of relentless pessimism about the world, this exporting of fear, not hope, has really left people feeling that the idea of America has been stolen from them. And I would argue that that is the animating force behind so much of the animus directed at George Bush.

Once again Mr. Friedman allows emotional truthiness to triumph over historical fact. As if it weren't bad enough that the Shrub stolded the election in 2000 from AlGore and that history repeated itself in 2004 when Hope turned out Not To Be On The Way in Florida. Now that Horrid Man is Stealing Hope from the World. In fact, we're suffering from a veritable Global Hope Deficit. Small children in Third World nations are starving to death from a lack of Hope. And I think we all know who's to blame.

Never mind that antipathy to America is as old as America herself. Why trouble to recall that over half a century ago these words caused little outcry, so commonplace were the sentiments they expressed:

"One nation that manages to lower intelligence, morality, human quality on nearly all the surface of the earth, such a thing has never been seen before in the existence of the planet. I accuse the United States of being in a permanent state of crime against humankind."

The reflexive resentment Friedman struggles to attribute to the actions of the Bush administration in fact predates it and has far more numerous causes than the war on terror. One may be, simply put, simple envy. America represents a behemoth of abundance - abundant health and wealth, abundant military and economic power, abundant ideas; all overwhelming to the smaller, less vibrant nations forced to exist in its shadow:

This anti-Americanism, derived from the writings of the pro-Nazi philosopher Martin Heidegger, says that America represents the principle of quantity without quality, a blind dumb massifying force that is crushing culture...
According to the most developed views of anti-Americanism, there is no community of interests between the two sides of the Atlantic because America is a different and alien place. ...

[P]roponents invest differences that exist between Europe and America with a level of significance all out of proportion with their real weight. True, Europeans spend more on the welfare state than do Americans, and Europeans have eliminated capital punishment while many American states still employ it. But to listen to the way in which these facts are discussed, one would think that they add up to different civilizations. This kind of analysis goes so far as to place in question even the commonality of democracy. Since democracy is now unquestionably regarded as a good thing—never mind, of course, that such an attachment to democracy arguably constitutes the most fundamental instance of Americanization—America cannot be a real democracy. And so it is said that American capitalism makes a mockery of the idea of equality, or that low rates of voting participation disqualify America from being in the camp of democratic states.

Again, like Broder, Mr. Friedman completely ignores the incontrovertible fact that anti-Americanism has a long-standing genesis that predates the Bush administration. He wants to believe that America was loved before 9/11, and so he does. He wants to believe that somehow, if we just got "back on course", we would once again be accepted into the international embrace, and so he airily dismisses the facts, concocting a ridiculous vision of the once and future kingdom where even France would grant us moral legitimacy if only we'd straighten up and fly right. No doubt, too, Hezbollah would lay down their rockets if the Bush White House would just show them a little respect:

And you know, part of just showing up, Tim, you know, why did I go to Syria? I haven’t been to Syria in a long time. But, you know, listening. If I found one thing as a reporter—worked in the Arab world for 25 years, as a Jewish-American reporter—here’s what I found. I found that listening is a sign of respect. You know, if you just go over and listen to people, and what they have to say, it’s amazing what they’ll allow you to say back. But when you just say, “We’re not going to go to Damascus, we’re not going to listen to the Syrians,” we—you’re never going to get anywhere that way. I’m not guaranteeing you you’re going to get somewhere the other way, but all I know, you sure increase the odds if you sit down and just listen.

Right, Thom. And maybe the world really is flat, too.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:22 AM | Comments (9)

July 17, 2006

The Equalizing Effect of Technology, Terror, and the Dissolution of the Nation-State

Reading this excellent post of Grim's on the Hamdan decision, I had some related thoughts that I'd like to throw out for discussion.

It seems to me the entire calculus of international relations is being radically changed by the increasing affluence of industrialized democracies and a concommittant phenomenon: the fear of violent confrontation. I cited something a long time ago on Jet Noise about the UN and how their entire focus seems to have become the maintenance of what I then called Order Über Alles:

From Castro's Cuba to Pol Pot's Cambodia to Amin's Uganda to Mugabe's Zimbabwe to the warfare in Rwanda and Hussein's Iraq, the history of the international relations over the past several decades is a history of endless tolerance for murder and repression -- as long as the violence involves actions of recognized governments. The international community has little tolerance, however, for protracted disruption in the continuity of leadership within a government. The international community is willing to act -- maybe even for moral reasons -- in the presence of a power vacuum.

There was a time when only the very richest men and nation-states possessed the means to make their voices heard or enforce their will on large numbers of unwilling persons. But with the advent of relatively cheap chemical/biological weapons and intercontinental air travel, even actors with fairly limited means now possess the wherewithal to transport small groups of footsoldiers and weapons of mass destruction instantly across the globe, posing a once-undreamed-of asymmetrical threat to the world's few remaining superpowers.

The implications of Hamdan are (to me at least) significant. They say that, far from worrying about mere humanitarian concerns, at least some of those nine men and women in black may well have been worried, not solely about the safety and welfare of detainees, but about their own safety, welfare, and security.

The entire purpose of Geneva was to ensure reciprocally humane treatment of prisoners during wartime. There is an implied carrot at the end of the stick: if you agree to treat our prisoners humanely, we will agree to do the same to yours. To balance out this implied carrot there is (obviously) an implied threat: refuse, and we shall refuse like treatment to your prisoners. Of course, this threat requires a certain amount of sangfroid; something affluent societies with open media no longer seem to possess.

The inclusion of formerly-excluded fringe groups like al Qaeda in the provisions of the Geneva Convention indicates, at least to me, a shift in their bargaining power at the negotiating table brought about by technology.

As technological advances made the West richer, they have made us more risk averse and less willing to accept the casualties, harsh realities, and necessary trade-offs between freedom and security that war inevitably brings. At the same time, technology has speeded up travel and caused a population explosion, making national borders more porous. These developments have the effect of making isolationism and national sovreignty increasingly difficult concepts to defend.

Technology, the Internet, and simple human ingenuity have made it easy to disperse terror cells and lower the cost of killing. The 9/11 terrorists used boxcutters and plane tickets to kill almost 3,000 people. Fertilizer and fuel oil were used in the Oklahoma City bombing.

I sense not just altruism in Hamdan, but naked self-interest. Fear of confronting an enemy we can't keep out and can't always identify easily. Fear of retribution in a society with a free press which sensationalizes even trivial (and sometimes made up) offenses like the infamous Koran flushing incident at Gitmo. Hamdan was essentially an unofficial renegotiation of Geneva which brought al Qaeda - a terrorist group neither officially contemplated nor meant to be recognized by the Geneva signatories - to the bargaining table. And you don't get invited to the bargaining table unless you have something to offer. Or unless you have power. Or unless you inspire fear. That power to inspire fear is something that al Qaeda: a terrorist group not officially backed by any nation or recognized group, would not possess to the degree it does were it still fighting with stone knives and scimitars and riding Arabian steeds. We are afraid of al Qaeda today because they could be anywhere, at any time; because five years ago, they flew planes into the World Trade Center, killing 3,000 Americans.

Because they crossed the Atlantic Ocean and invaded our turf.

Because they brought jihad to us. Using our own technology.

And boxcutters. And now, our own legal system. It is something to think about.

Posted by Cassandra at 05:00 PM | Comments (16)

June 29, 2006

The Cost Of Freedom

Lunchtime. My morning reading list is still stacked in the taskbar of my new computer. Different topics lie jumbled together with no rhyme or reason to sort them out, much like my thoughts at 4 am after a long night with no sleep. Some days the egregious asshattery is too much to absorb.

Presidential signing statements are more than just executive branch lunacy. Do I even want to go there again? No. Been there, done that. Don't need the stinkin' t-shirt.

NPR compares the media's coverage of the terrorist plot in Florida and the SWIFT banking furor.

Ted Olson wants a shield law? What the...? *sigh*

This could be interesting. The first part is unintentionally amusing:

The strength of "Whose Freedom?" is that it attributes the left's current foundering not just to a failure of strategy but to a failure of self-knowledge. Progressives, he argues, don't really understand what they believe or, just as important, how they believe it.

Sometimes I wonder if these people are reading my posts. But then I realize how ludicrous that is. Even I don't want to read my posts. Still, you have to love the progressive struggle to deal with their uniquely existential crisis: they really don't have a coherent ideology. Or rather, to hear some of them tell it they do - it's just that no one can articulate it because it's so incredibly complex. But when in doubt, take ownership of the problem:

"Freedom and liberty are progressive ideas -- our ideas," he writes. "It is time for progressives to fully integrate them into our everyday thinking and into our language."

In other words, we may not be able to tell you exactly what we believe, but damnitall, we're fully integrated. And whatever the heck it is, it's as American as apple pie. Yessir:

Furthermore, the progressive notion of freedom is identical to "traditional American freedom," which "still reigns in the American mind." Progressives really are in tune with what many average Americans believe, Lakoff insists, but conservatives are so good at hijacking the language to peddle their own radical redefinition of "freedom" that the other side can't get its message across.

Way to go there, perfessor. Witness for Tolerance by demonizing the Other. This is all beginning to sound nauseatingly familiar. It's at this point that I generally start to hear that little Valley Girl in my head saying, "What-everrrrrrrrrr". Hold this thought: we're not losing because we can't articulate what we think. We're losing because those wily conservative bastards stole the words right out of our mouths.

It gets worse, later on. Predictably, they try to figure out what they think about freedom. That never ends well, but when you're trying to avoid an unpleasant thought it always helps to distract yourself with psychobabble. And actually, I'm being a bit unfair. Lakoff's theories are actually quite insightful, so far as they go. But then they hit that dark, soulless place that progressives instinctively shy away from, their hands held out in furious denial:

A soldier was dead, and it was time for him to go home.

The doors to the little morgue swung open, and six soldiers stepped outside carrying a long black bag zippered at the top.

About 60 soldiers were waiting to say goodbye. They had gathered in the sand outside this morgue at Camp Ramadi, an Army base in Anbar Province, now the most lethal of Iraqi places.

Inside the bag was Sgt. Terry Michael Lisk, 26, of Zion, Ill., killed a few hours before.

In the darkness, the bag was barely visible. A line of blue chemical lights marked the way to the landing strip not far away.

Everyone saluted, even the wounded man on a stretcher. No one said a word.

The pallbearers lifted Sergeant Lisk into the back of an ambulance, a truck marked by a large red cross, and fell in with the others walking silently behind it as it crept through the sand toward the landing zone. The blue lights showed the way.

From a distance came the sound of a helicopter.

This is it. This is the subject of those quotes from the Founding Fathers; the ones progressives never seem to misquote when they're losing an argument.

This is the cost of freedom.

Because whether progressives like to admit it or not, someone always pays. In blood, sweat, toil, endless nights staring at an empty space where someone's head used to lie. A lump in the throat that never goes away.

What Lakoff's 'nurturant parent' model doesn't quite take into account is that there really are monsters under the bed, sometimes, and 'discussion and explanation' aren't much use when you're faced with people in exploding vests who haven't read your article in Salon:

Progressives, by contrast, subscribe to the "nurturant parent" model. This concept seems somewhat foggier, "authoritative without being authoritarian," based on mutual respect and the idea that discussion and explanation, rather than simple decree and force, are the best way to set rules. Adhering to key principles like fairness or kindness according to the situation is more important than following the letter of the law in every circumstance. The reward for behaving well is affection, togetherness and help when you need it. It holds that the "citizens care about their community and each other and act responsibly toward their community and each other." The nurturant-parent model puts its emphasis on the carrot, while the strict-father model is all about the stick.

Sergeant Lisk didn't have to be in al-Anbar. Very likely he didn't want to be, much of the time. Perhaps not at all. But he was there on the day death found him:

In the minutes after the mortar shell exploded, everyone hoped that Sergeant Lisk would live. Although he was not breathing, the medics got to him right away, and the hospital was not far.

"What's his name?" asked Col. Sean MacFarland, the commander of the 4,000-soldier First Brigade.

"Lisk, sir," someone replied.

"If he can be saved, they'll save him," said Colonel MacFarland, who had been only a few yards away in an armored personnel carrier when the mortar shell landed.

About 10 minutes later, the word came.

"He's dead," Colonel MacFarland said.

Whenever a soldier dies, in Iraq or anywhere else, a wave of uneasiness — fear, revulsion, guilt, sadness — ripples through the survivors. It could be felt on Monday, even when the fighting was still going on.

"He was my best friend," Specialist Allan Sammons said, his lower lip shaking. "That's all I can say. I'm kind of shaken up."

Another soldier asked, "You want to take a break?"

Specialist Sammons said, "I'll be fine," his lip still shaking.

Sometimes I wonder if I'll ever be able to read one of these stories without spending the rest of the day (and often waking during the night) in tears? I hope so. Then again, I hope not. I hate the too-quick teardrops I can no longer control, the swift rush of anger, the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that never quite seems to go away. I hate the way I see his face, the first one who died. For me, he will always be the face of this war.

His name was John. A good name. A strong name.

And it was with the same conflicting emotions that I read Col. McFarland's remarks to his men. "What in the hell was he thinking?", I thought at first. And then, "You have no right... no right." Am I talking about him, or myself?

And a few seconds later, "I wonder if any of them - the media - really understand how it feels? That most of us hate war, question it, doubt it? I wonder if they know that we question the cost, all the time?"

But questioning the cost is not the same as denying that there is a cost associated with our freedoms. It's hard to grasp, when the gap between cause and effect is this abstract. It makes being resolute much harder.

Ideas like Lakoff's give me hope that the two halves of our divided nation may some day be reconciled, may someday try to understand each other's positions. History tells me, though, that this won't happen until the pain is a distant memory. The war half a world away reverberates beneath our feet here at home, causing the ground to crack underneath us when we least expect it; causing bitter quarrels even among friends.

This is the cost of our continued freedom from fear, and refusing to acknowledge that cost doesn't make it go away. Some say war never solves anything.

Rubbish. Open a history book. War solves a great number of things, quite finally in some cases. War has finished entire civilizations. But the act of engaging in warfare does not make us all morally equivalent. It matters - very much - what we're fighting for. And how we fight. It will always matter.

Colonel McFarland is right. In one sense, nothing can ever be worth losing men like Sergeant Lisk. They are the ones who show up. Who risk it all for the fine-sounding words we like to drag out on Independence Day. But in another sense, their deaths give shape and meaning to our ideals. Without the willingness to sacrifice, those bold words would be as dry as dust. Men like Sergeant Lisk are the living embodiment of freedom: they are not victims, but free men who voluntarily give their best to protect what we - and they - hold dear.

And in that sense, does it really make sense to cheapen their sacrifice by saying "nothing is worth this"?

They thought it was worth it. They were willing to pay the cost of freedom. And one day thousands of people not yet born, on both sides of this planet, may yet come to call their names blessed when they reflect on the freedoms purchased with their blood.

CWCID: Thanks to NB for the Thomas Paine link.

Posted by Cassandra at 12:52 PM | Comments (22)

June 26, 2006

Reinforcing Defeat

Much has been written about the recent "outing" of two classified anti-terrorism programs. For those who support the spread of democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan, the irony is almost palpable. The Left literally sputtered with outrage when a single CIA operative was allegedly "outed" by unnamed (and after two years of independent counsel investigation, apparently unindictable) White House officials. "What about our national security?" they screamed. "The law has been broken!".

But that was then.

This is now. Neither the sanctity of law nor national security appear to matter in the slightest to defenders of the New York Times, which has now "outed", not a single minor CIA functionary, but two entire classified anti-terror programs. So much for fine sounding principles.

We are given to understand the Times' actions are different. In this case, you see, the public interest outweighed both the rule of law and national security. To hear the press tell it, the public's right to know trumps all other considerations.

What the public doesn't have a right to know, apparently, is that Joe Wilson's version of events was a tissue of lies. The New York Times certainly isn't reporting the good news. Neither is the Washington Post, which inxplicably allowed one of the reporters Wilson lied to to continue writing about L'Affaire Plame.

The important thing to remember is that in the eyes of the press, the end always justifies the means. Law, national security, transparency, even literal truth are all negotiable commodities:

The one great similarity between Vietnam and Iraq is that our enemies, despairing of victory on the battlefield, sought to win with a propaganda campaign.

In Vietnam, this strategy succeeded. If it fails in Iraq, it will be chiefly because of the emergence of the new media.

The turning point in Vietnam was the Tet Offensive of February, 1968. It was a crushing defeat for the Viet Cong.

"Our losses were staggering and a complete surprise," said North Vietnamese Army Col. Bui Tin in a 1995 interview. "Our forces in the South were nearly wiped out. It took until 1971 to re-establish our presence."

"The Tet Offensive proved catastrophic to our plans," said Truong Nhu Tang, minister of justice in the Viet Cong's provisional government, in a 1982 interview. "Our losses were so immense we were unable to replace them with new recruits."

The news media reported this overwhelming American victory as a catastrophic defeat.

"Donning helmet, Mr. Cronkite declared the war lost," recounted UPI's Arnaud de Borchgrave. "It was this now famous television news piece that persuaded President Lyndon Johnson...not to run for re-election."

Shaken by Tet, he planned to seek terms for a conditional surrender, the North Vietnamese commander, Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, wrote in his memoirs. But our news media's complete misrepresentation of what had actually happened "convinced him America's resolve was weakening and complete victory was within Hanoi's grasp," Mr. de Borchgrave said.


Success is self-reinforcing. Today's coverage of the Iraq war in many ways resembles that long-ago coverage:

Earlier this month, the Army sponsored a conference for retired general officers at Fort Carson, Colorado. They were addressed by recent returnees from Iraq, including Col. H.R. McMaster, commander of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment.

"All returnees agreed we are clearly winning the fight against the insurgents but are losing the public relations battle," said a retired admiral in an email to friends.

A disturbing anecdote from Col. McMaster illustrates why. His 3rd ACR broke the insurgents' hold of the city of Tal Afar last September in an operation which generated these effusive words of praise from the town's mayor:

"To the lion hearts who liberated our city from the grasp of terrorists who were beheading men, women and children in the streets...(you are) not only courageous men and women, but avenging angels sent by The God Himself to fight the evil of terrorism."
Time magazine had a reporter and a photographer embedded with the 3rd ACR. When the battle was over, they filed a lengthy story and nearly 100 photographs.

"When the issue came out, the guts had been edited out of the reporter's story and none of the photographs he submitted were used," said the admiral, quoting Col. McMaster. "When the reporter questioned why his story was eviscerated, his editors...responded that the story and pictures were 'too heroic.'"


Too heroic? The media keep telling us they can't find any good news to report in Iraq and AFghanistan. What's closer to the truth is that the good news is systematically edited out of wartime coverage.

The power of positive reinforcement to change human behavior is well established. There have been studies showing that more coverage of terrorism leads to more terrorist acts, but we hardly need scientists to tell us that the goal of terrorism is to cause terror. If these acts were performed in secret, they would have no power to frighten or discourage. Terrorists want publicity, the media gives it to them for free, and because the tactic works it is employed over and over again. But there is a fascinating flip side to the positive reinforcement angle and it is this: what do you suppose would happen if the press started reporting good news?

What if the press hyped acts of kindness, bravery, and compassion the way they hyped the photos from Abu Ghuraib? What if they gave the words of the Mayor of Tal Afar the same prominence as Jack Murtha's defeatist rhetoric? What if the public, in addition to the bad news, were told stories of how we're making a difference in the lives of ordinary Iraqis? What if we heard more about strategies that work and less about dying donkeys? Grim tells a story that confirms what we already suspect intuitively: just as a constant diet of bad news breeds hopelessness and despair and criminal acts encourage more crime, decent acts inspire others to perform more decent acts. Success inspires others to try harder. Stories like Tal Afar give us hope.

The media will tell you that they relentlessly hype even unproven allegations of abuse so that they will "never happen again". Any psychologist could tell them that though negative reinforcement has its uses, positive feedback is a far more powerful force in shaping human behavior. Oddly enough, however, the media still see no reason to report good news about the war. Perhaps that is not surprising, for they do not wish to see us succeed in Iraq. Their positive feedback is reserved for terrorists rather than their own side.

And what is increasingly evident is that the media do not wish to inspire decency, bravery, and hope but despair and a sense of impending defeat. Judging from history as well as recent poll results, they may well get their wish. America may again abandon a contest they were winning on the battlefield but had long ago lost in the eyes of the American public.

Posted by Cassandra at 05:03 PM | Comments (2)

June 21, 2006

Recharacterizing The War On Terror

Why has public support for the war on terror, once at 70%, eroded so severely?

"Experts" like John Murtha, whose moral authority to speak for the military is unimpeachable (and don't you dare question his patriotism either!) will quickly tell you: the war is "a flawed policy, wrapped in an illusion". Murtha continually repeats a few easily-digestable stock phrases and the media unquestioningly give him front page coverage, inexplicably ignoring the many times his statements have contradicted each other or been demonstrably false:

Back home, Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., a prominent defense hawk, called for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq over six months. In a speech Thursday, Murtha said, "Our troops have become the primary target of the insurgency."

Even the most cursory follower of the war should be able to spot the flaws in this one. Open a newspaper on any given day and you'll likely read of explosions, kidnappings, and headless corpses. Who are most of the victims? Not our troops. Most of us instinctively recognize terrorism. We don't have to have the word defined for us - it's well established in the popular lexicon. But lest we draw the wrong conclusions about "so-called terrorism", CNN, Reuters, and the BBC hasten to assure us that "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter". After all, if United Nations cannot seem to define terrorism, let alone confront it, who are we to differ?

This must be another instance where the media "can't find" information cleverly hidden in obscure spots like Merriam-Webster; places too dark and dangerous for an investigative reporter to go without a military escort:

terror: (3)violence (as bombing) committed by groups in order to intimidate a population or government into granting their demands

The simple truth is that Iraq's insurgents are not fighting for their own freedom. They fear the courage of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who braved sniper fire and explosions to get to the polls. They are afraid the will of the people will one day be heard in Iraq, and they fight desperately to prevent democracy from taking hold, fight to impose the will of the minority on an entire nation by force. The defining characteristic of terrorists is that they intentionally pass up legitimate combatants, preferring to target innocent men, women, and even small children. We deliberately target the insurgents, and sometimes innocent civilians get killed. The insurgency, for the most part, deliberately targets innocent civilians. How, then, did our troops become "the primary target" of the insurgency? How did we become the bad guys?

The answer, of course, is that we aren't. So why do the media, who challenge the administration and the Pentagon at every opportunity, continually give Jack Murtha a pass? Why don't they question the obvious inconsistencies in his public statements? Why do they perform bizarre gyrations, working even months-old quotes into every single wartime report?

The answer, we are told, is context. The American public needs context to fully understand the complexities of war. We need the kind of context the media deliberately refuse to provide when they relentlessly hype every setback or accusation without balancing these reports with the acts of incredible heroism or compassion. This is completely understandable. Such accounts might serve to remind us that not all our troops are, as we are daily reminded, murderers who "... overreact because of the pressure on them, and ...kill innocent civilians in cold blood.”

In order to keep the war in perspective, Americans are constantly told that we squandered the support of our allies, who would have been on our side, had we been less arrogant:

...during the first ten days of the war, Iraq asked Russia, France, and China not to support cease-fire initiatives because Saddam believed such moves would legitimize the coalition's presence in Iraq.

Furthermore, UN sanctions were working, weren't they? We should never have invaded without the approval of France, Russia, and China:

Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz described the dictator as having been "very confident" that the United States would not dare to attack Iraq, and that if it did, it would be defeated. What was the source of Saddam's confidence?

Judging from his private statements, the single most important element in Saddam's strategic calculus was his faith that France and Russia would prevent an invasion by the United States. According to Aziz, Saddam's confidence was firmly rooted in his belief in the nexus between the economic interests of France and Russia and his own strategic goals: "France and Russia each secured millions of dollars worth of trade and service contracts in Iraq, with the implied understanding that their political posture with regard to sanctions on Iraq would be pro-Iraqi. In addition, the French wanted sanctions lifted to safeguard their trade and service contracts in Iraq. Moreover, they wanted to prove their importance in the world as members of the Security Council -- that they could use their veto to show they still had power."

Saddam wanted the sanctions lifted too-- according to the Iraq Survey Group, so he could begin manufacturing WMDs again. But lest this news lead us to the wrong conclusion, we are once again reminded that Iraq posed no threat to us:

The Saddam Fedayeen also took part in the regime's domestic terrorism operations and planned for attacks throughout Europe and the Middle East. In a document dated May 1999, Saddam's older son, Uday, ordered preparations for "special operations, assassinations, and bombings, for the centers and traitor symbols in London, Iran and the self-ruled areas [Kurdistan]." Preparations for "Blessed July," a regime-directed wave of "martyrdom" operations against targets in the West, were well under way at the time of the coalition invasion.

Never heard of Blessed July? Apparently that was a form of "context" the mainstream media decided we didn't need to hear. You see, Iraq was contained by twelve years of UN sanctions and the sternly wagging finger of international consensus. Move along -- nothing to see here.

If our children don't need historical context to understand war, why should we?

Jay Mathews wrote of the teaching of WWII history in the public schools, that there are lessons on women stepping into men's roles and lessons on the Japanese internment, but few on generals or specific battles. As Joanne Jacobs put it, "Rosie the Riveter has trumped Patton."

Why mention that 25 percent of Union and 31 percent of Confederate Forces were killed or wounded at the Battle of Antietam, that it was the single bloodiest day in American history; with 23,000 Americans killed, wounded, or missing in action? But then as a result of this and many other bloody and discouraging battles, the slaves were freed and the Union preserved.

We can understand death, in that context. And certainly there is no comparison to a war where the American people were lied to:

Both the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee and the independent Silberman-Robb Commission found not one case in which Bush officials, quoting the Senate committee, "attempted to coerce, influence or pressure analysts to change their judgments related to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capabilities." Recall that both the French and German intelligence agencies also believed Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.

Just two months before the war, the Los Angeles Times reported that chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix "disclosed troubling new details about Iraq's weapons programs and expressed frustration with what he described as Baghdad's refusal to resolve long-standing questions about efforts to produce biological and chemical weapons, as well as long-range missiles." Mr. Blix later told reporters that in his gut he felt that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. "These guys had played cat-and-mouse during the whole of the '90s, so I was suspicious of that," he told NBC's Tim Russert earlier this month. He later changed his mind when his officials uncovered no evidence of a weapons program. But the question remains: If President Bush lied about Saddam having WMD why did so many others also say the same thing at the time?

How can this compare with a war against an enemy everyone knows posed no threat to us?

...newly declassified documents from Saddam Hussein's office concerning a meeting between an Iraq official and Osama bin Laden show that "Saddam was a significant enemy of the United States." One document is a handwritten account of a Feb. 19, 1995, meeting between an official representative of Iraq and bin Laden, where bin Laden broached the idea of "carrying out joint operations against foreign forces" in Saudi Arabia. The document reports that after Saddam was informed of the meeting he agreed to broadcast sermons of a radical imam, Suleiman al Ouda, requested by bin Laden. Several months later al Qaeda terrorists attacked the headquarters of the Saudi National Guard. The document specifically said the question of future cooperation "between the two parties [is] to be left according to what's open" in the future.

How can this compare to a war against an enemy we all know had been contained for twelve years?

During the former president's visit to Kuwait to commemorate the coalition's victory over Iraq in the Gulf War, Kuwaiti authorities arrested 17 people allegedly involved in a car bomb plot to kill George H.W. Bush. Through interviews with the suspects and examinations of the bomb's circuitry and wiring, the FBI established that the plot had been directed by the Iraqi Intelligence Service. A Kuwaiti court later convicted all but one of the defendants.

In retaliation, President Clinton two months later ordered the firing of 23 cruise missiles at Iraqi Intelligence Service headquarters in Baghdad. The day before the attack U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Madeleine K. Albright went before the Security Council to present evidence of the Iraqi plot. And, after the U.S. attack, Vice President Gore said the attack "was intended to be a proportionate response at the place where this plot" to assassinate Bush "was hatched and implemented."

How can the American people continue to support a war when we are making no progress?

Documents found on the computer owned by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi show he was increasingly concerned about the "bleak situation" the insurgency he led faced. "Time is beginning to be of service to the U.S. forces by allowing them to form and bolster the [Iraqi] National Guard, undertake big arrest operations, carry out a media campaign weakening the resistance's influence and presenting it as harmful to the people, [and] creat[ing] division among its ranks." He concluded by saying that the best way "to get out of this crisis is to entangle the American forces into another war. . . . We have noticed that the best of these wars is the one between the Americans and Iran."

The answer should be obvious: we can't support this war. The Iraqis have failed to hold elections or write a constitution. Those we intended to liberate now hate us. Thanks to us, they have completely lost hope:

To the Courageous Men and Women of the 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment, who have changed the city of Tall’ Afar from a ghost town, in which terrorists spread death and destruction, to a secure city flourishing with life.

To the lion-hearts who liberated our city from the grasp of terrorists who were beheading men, women and children in the streets for many months.

To those who spread smiles on the faces of our children, and gave us restored hope, through their personal sacrifice and brave fighting, and gave new life to the city after hopelessness darkened our days, and stole our confidence in our ability to reestablish our city.

Our city was the main base of operations for Abu Mousab Al Zarqawi. The city was completely held hostage in the hands of his henchmen. Our schools, governmental services, businesses and offices were closed. Our streets were silent, and no one dared to walk them. Our people were barricaded in their homes out of fear; death awaited them around every corner. Terrorists occupied and controlled the only hospital in the city. Their savagery reached such a level that they stuffed the corpses of children with explosives and tossed them into the streets in order to kill grieving parents attempting to retrieve the bodies of their young. This was the situation of our city until God prepared and delivered unto them the courageous soldiers of the 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment, who liberated this city, ridding it of Zarqawi’s followers after harsh fighting, killing many terrorists, and forcing the remaining butchers to flee the city like rats to the surrounding areas, where the bravery of other 3d ACR soldiers in Sinjar, Rabiah, Zumar and Avgani finally destroyed them.

I have met many soldiers of the 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment; they are not only courageous men and women, but avenging angels sent by The God Himself to fight the evil of terrorism.

Could anything be more clear? The media doesn't report acts of heroism because heroism doesn't really exist. As Jack Murtha keeps reminding us, "We have become the enemy." It's time to "redeploy".

Why has public support for the war eroded so much? Perhaps it is America's knowledge about the war that represents a failed understanding wrapped in illusion.

Posted by Cassandra at 06:22 AM | Comments (0)

June 19, 2006

Murtha vs. Murtha: We've Met The Enemy And They Iz Us Edition

8953318-8953321-slarge.jpg John Murtha, the lithe and incredibly buff victim of repeated vicious and completely unprovoked attacks from Karl Rove's fat backside, talks about the importance of being willing to change direction:

...it shows you how important it is to change direction in Iraq. Reagan changed direction in Beirut. Clinton changed direction in Somalia. We need to change direction. And they can't seem to get it.
He should know. Unlike the present administration, Murtha has displayed a commendable willingness to change his mind. Only a year and a half ago, the unrepentant hawk maintained America would lose credibility if we withdrew according to a "political timetable":
“Nevertheless, a war initiated on faulty intelligence must not be followed by a premature withdrawal of our troops based on a political timetable. An untimely exit could rapidly devolve into a civil war, which would leave America's foreign policy in disarray as countries question not only America's judgment but also its perseverance.
-John Murtha, late 2004
Less than a year later, Murtha changed his mind. Now, there could be no credibility without a timetable:
"...the American people want a timetable... even the Iraqi leadership wants a timetable...after all how else are they ever going to have any credibility in the region?"
- Murtha, 2005

By November, the demand for a timetable had morphed into a proposal for immediate redeployment of US forces in Iraq and the establishment of a "quick reaction", "over-the-horizon force" in the region:

Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That:

Section 1. The deployment of United States forces in Iraq, by direction of Congress, is hereby terminated and the forces involved are to be redeployed at the earliest practicable date.

Section 2. A quick-reaction U.S. force and an over-the- horizon presence of U.S Marines shall be deployed in the region.

Section 3 The United States of America shall pursue security and stability in Iraq through diplomacy.
- John Murtha, November, 2005


Fearing non-military folks might not understand technical terms like "quick response" and "in the region", Rep. Murtha helpfully defined these terms for the public half a year later:

MR. ROVE: Congressman Murtha said, “Let’s redeploy them immediately to another country in the Middle East. Let’s get out of Iraq and go to another country.” My question is, what country would take us? What country would say after the United States cut and run from Iraq, what country in the Middle East would say, “Yeah. Paint a big target on our back and then you’ll cut and run on us.” What country would say that? What country would accept our troops?

MURTHA: Kuwait’s one that will take us. Qatar, we already have bases in Qatar. So Bahrain. All those countries are willing to take the United States. Now, Saudi Arabia won’t because they wanted us out of there in the first place. So—and we don’t have to be right there. We can go to Okinawa. We, we don’t have—we can redeploy there almost instantly. So that’s not—that’s, that’s a fallacy. That, that’s just a statement to rial up people to support a failed policy wrapped in illusion.

MR. RUSSERT: But it’d be tough to have a timely response from Okinawa.

REP. MURTHA: Well, it—you know, they—when I say Okinawa, I, I’m saying troops in Okinawa. When I say a timely response, you know, our fighters can fly from Okinawa very quickly. And—and—when they don’t know we’re coming. There’s no question about it. And, and where those airplanes won’t—came from I can’t tell you, but, but I’ll tell you one thing, it doesn’t take very long for them to get in with cruise missiles or with, with fighter aircraft or, or attack aircraft, it doesn’t take any time at all. So we, we have done—this one particular operation, to say that that couldn’t have done, done—it was done from the outside, for heaven’s sakes.


Though of course Americans who haven't been in combat really have no right to comment on Rep. Murtha's proposal, some of you civilian types may be wondering exactly what military terms like "get there quickly", "rapid deployment, and "over-the-horizon force" mean? Fortunately, Rep. Murtha is well-versed in combat logistics. There's no question about it:

...this ignores the six week 24/7 Taskforce 145 "Unblinking Eye" intelligence and surveillance operation that led to having a Delta SR team with eyes on target and designating it with a laser. Apparently Murtha thinks that somebody called 1-800-ZARQAWI with 10 digit grid coordinates and voila! an F-16 launches from Okinawa and 10-12 hours later... poof, no more Zarqawi.

The straight yellow line extending across the middle of China and Iran is the distance from Okinawa to Baghdad as the crow flies which is approximately 4200 nautical miles. Obviously, the Chinese and the Iranians wouldn't be cool with that, but let's just roll with it. The max combat range for the F-16 with external fuel tanks and 2000 lbs of ordnance is 740 nautical miles so that's like a minimum of SIX midair refuelings in EACH direction.


The main thing is that when we make mistakes, our national interest and the respect of the international community depend on our willingness to change direction, as Clinton did, leading to our notable success in Mogadishu, Somalia:

...your most disgraceful case was in Somalia; where- after vigorous propaganda about the power of the USA and its post cold war leadership of the new world order- you moved tens of thousands of international force, including twenty eight thousands American solders into Somalia. However, when tens of your solders were killed in minor battles and one American Pilot was dragged in the streets of Mogadishu you left the area carrying disappointment, humiliation, defeat and your dead with you. Clinton appeared in front of the whole world threatening and promising revenge, but these threats were merely a preparation for withdrawal.

You have been disgraced by Allah and you withdrew; the extent of your impotence and weaknesses became very clear. It was a pleasure for the "heart" of every Muslim and a remedy to the "chests" of believing nations to see you defeated in the three Islamic cities of Beirut, Aden and Mogadishu.
- Usama bin Laden

"Our people realize[d] more than before that the American soldier is a paper tiger that run[s] in defeat after a few blows," the terror chief recalled. "America forgot all about the hoopla and media propaganda and left dragging their corpses and their shameful defeat."

- Usama bin Laden, 1998


After all, the last thing we want to do is give a microphone to our enemies

We’ve become the enemy. We’ve given a microphone to people like Zarqawi,” said Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa
. Finally Rep. Murtha says something we can all agree with.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:37 AM | Comments (4)

June 16, 2006

Irrational Exuberance Alert

Someone is obviously drinking the Red State kool-aid. Doesn't he realize America is losing this war?

Perhaps the most valuable finds have been al Qaeda planning documents confirming what has been suspected of terrorist strategy. Also valuable have been the al Qaeda assessment of their situation in Iraq. The terrorist strategy is one of desperation. While the effort continues to attempt to trigger a civil war between Sunni and Shia in Iraq, this is seen as a losing proposition. The new strategy attempts to trigger a war between the United States and Iran. This would weaken the United States, and put the hurt on Iran, an arch-enemy of al Qaeda. Other documents stressed the need to manipulate Moslem and Western media. This was to be done by starting rumors of American atrocities, and feeding the media plausible supporting material. Al Qaeda's attitude was that if they could not win in reality, they could at least win imaginary battles via the media.

Zarqawi considered al Qaeda's situation in Iraq as "bleak." The most worrisome development was the growing number of trained Iraqi soldiers and police. These were able to easily spot the foreigners who made up so much of al Qaeda's strength. Moreover, more police and soldiers in an area meant some local civilians would feel safe enough to report al Qaeda activity. The result of all this is that there are far fewer foreign Arabs in Iraq fighting for al Qaeda. The terrorist organization has basically been taken over anti-government Sunni Arabs. That made the capture of Zarqawi even more valuable, as his address book contained a who's who of the anti-government Sunni Arab forces. This group has been hurt badly by last week's raids.

What is good in life? To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentation of their women.

Thanks to NB for the Strategy Page link.

Posted by Cassandra at 06:00 PM | Comments (6)

June 14, 2006

Ignatius Typifies Media's Rush To Judgment Mentality

In today's Washington Post, David Ignatius excoriates the leadership at Guantanamo Bay for insensitivity in the wake of three coordinated detainee suicides:

When I hear U.S. officials describe the suicides of three Muslim prisoners at Guantanamo Bay last Saturday as "asymmetric warfare" and "a good PR move," I know it's time to close that camp -- not just because of what it's doing to the prisoners but because of how it is dehumanizing the American captors.

The American officials spoke of the dead prisoners as if they inhabited a different moral universe. That's what war does: People stop seeing their enemies as human beings and consign them to a different category. It was discomfiting to see this indifference stated so bluntly, and subsequent U.S. statements tactfully disavowed the initial ones.

We might call it the Guantanamo syndrome -- this process of mutual corrosion and dehumanization. The antidote is to get inside Guantanamo, to see the prisoners as individuals and begin to make distinctions.

Mr. Ignatius should follow his own advice. Has he ever been to Guantanamo Bay? What personal experience (other than writing a forward to a book written by a recently-released radical Islamist) does he have with Islamic jihadists, their ideology, or their behavior? Well, no matter. He is a pundit, you see. His comforting distance from messy reality lets him indulge his sense of outrage without the bothersome necessity of taking real world circumstances into account.

Ignatius derides the military's tendency to view jihadists "as if they inhabited a different moral universe", but two of the defining characterists of radical Islamists are their deliberate slaughter of innocent non-combatants and their continuing use of suicidal attacks on their enemies. Where exactly, one can't help but wonder, does deliberately killing innocents (not to mention suicide attacks) fit in the West's "moral universe"? His failure to "view the detainees as individuals" and "make distinctions" leads him to assume the detainees view the world through the prism of Western values, an act of cultural chauvinism that is hard to square with an ideology which views sawing the heads off still-living non-combatants as morally justifiable.

To press home to his readers the horrors of confinement at Guantanamo, Ignatius cites one Moazzem Begg, a former detainee whose account of his confinement conflicts jarringly with the conclusions we are meant to draw from it. According to Ignatius, Begg was in solitary confinement for two years:

"It is considered a sin in Islam to despair," he writes, but after he was transferred to a solitary cell at Guantanamo in 2003, Begg began to crack. The guards seemed obsessed with preventing suicide. Begg received an odd plastic blanket, for example, and later learned that it was a "suicide blanket" that couldn't be torn up to make a noose. When guards found paint chipped in his cell, they worried that he was trying to poison himself.

A prison psychiatrist explained to Begg that there had indeed been suicide attempts: "She told me there were people who'd lost all sense of time, reason, reality; people who had been kept in a solitary cell, completely blocked off with no window, eight foot by six, like mine, but with absolutely nobody to speak to, nobody. She said some of them just ended up talking to themselves." A despairing Begg writes at one point to his father back in England: "I still don't know what crime I am supposed to have committed. . . . I am in a state of desperation and I am beginning to lose the fight against depression and hopelessness."

What gives me hope -- not just for Begg but for all of us -- is that he never lost his humanity at Guantanamo. He talked constantly with his American guards, asking where they were from, what they wanted out of life. When guards made racist remarks, he shamed them by answering back in perfect English. He describes a guard named Jennifer from Selma, Ala., who painted her fingernails black and dressed like a Goth on weekends, and who once confided: "I don't know if they've ever accused you of anything. But I know y'all can't be guilty." Begg says of her: "She left me with a lasting impression. All Americans were not the same."

The inference is that despair stemming from unrelenting solitary confinement led the three detainees to take their lives in an act of desperation.

But Ignatius never questions the likelihood of three detainees, supposedly depressed beyond reason from unremitting solitary confinement, simultaneously killing themselves on a single night. Apparently despair floats through prison walls at Gitmo, penetrating even solitary confinement and allowing the hopeless to wordlessly coordinate their last desperate acts.

Ignatius' "proof" of the dehumanizing effects of solitary confinement, one notes, is a man who talked with his guards constantly, even having discussions with a prison psychiatrist and a guard which seem markedly uncallous and unguarded; almost as if these representatives of the United States were talking to... a human being, not an enemy detainee. The seeming contradictions between three detainees just happening to reach their breaking point on the same night and the image of prisoners so isolated and alone they abandoned the Koran's prohibition against despair and suicide trouble Mr. Ignatius not one whit.

In Ignatius' estimation, Islamic fundamentalism - an ideology which not only launched them on the path to detainment but which is authoritarian to a degree that seems strange to jaded Western eyes - is utterly irrelevant. He doesn't even bother to consider it. But what does the Koran say about suicide?

There is only one verse in the Koran that contains a phrase related to suicide: "O you who believe! Do not consume your wealth in the wrong way-rather through trade mutually agreed to, and do not kill yourselves. Surely God is Merciful toward you." (4:29) Some commentators believe that this phrase is better translated "do not kill each other." The prophetic tradition, however, clearly prohibits suicide. The hadith materials, which are the authoritative sayings and actions of the prophet, Muhammad, includes many unambiguous statements about suicide: one who "throws himself off a mountain" or "drinks poison" or "kills himself with a sharp instrument" will be in the fire of Hell. Suicide is not allowed even to those in extreme conditions such as painful illness or a serious wound. Ultimately, it is God, not humans, who has authority over the span of every person's life. There are some Muslims, most notably during the last several decades, who have engaged in suicidal military missions such as the truck bombing of the US Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 and the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington. The extremists cite passages in the Koran that promise paradise to those who die "struggling in the way of God." (2:154) They see what they are doing as active armed struggle in defense of Islam. Their death is thus viewed as martyrdom not as suicide. The overwhelming majority of Muslims view this as a misinterpretation of the Koran and Islamic tradition. Many also point out that the taking of innocent life – even in war – is strictly forbidden in Islam. This, too, makes the actions of Sept. 11 incompatible with Islamic teachings.

But the overwhelming majority of Muslims are not jihadis, nor are they confined to Gitmo. The detainees, like Moazzem Begg, were not ordinary Muslims. They were radical Islamists:

All three detainees had engaged in a hunger strike to protest their indefinite incarceration and had been force-fed before quitting their protest, base commander Navy Rear Admiral Harry Harris said in a conference call from Guantanamo Bay.

One of the detainees was a mid- or high-level al-Qaeda operative, while another had been captured in Afghanistan and participated in a riot at a prison there, Harris said. The third belonged to a splinter group, he added.

Once again, the fact that the three detainees had previously tried to end it all (what is a hunger strike, but the threat of suicide in order to achieve some goal?) is glossed over by Ignatius, as are the detainees histories. Neither the ideology that unites the three nor their past actions are allowed to interfere with the author's predetermined opinion that it was despair rather than concerted policy which led them to take their own lives. And neither Begg's admission that his captors “seemed obsessed with preventing suicide” (even sending him a prison psychiatrist) nor the fact that the three detainees had to be force-fed to prevent a previous suicide attempt alter his conclusion that their captors were callous and dehumanized jailers. Doubtless the force-feeding is just one more example of torture: truly caring jailers would doubtless have allowed the inmates to starve themselves to death.

Sadly, Ignatius is hardly alone in his rush to judge the military who, though they are constantly portrayed as sinister and even cruel, are after all human too; real people with families and emotions. People struggling with intractable problems Mr. Ignatius has never had to face.

Saturday's AZ Central featured the following cartoon from "Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Steve Benson.

eagle_globe.jpg A reader responds:

The "artist" has made the leap (as have most of the media) that these allegations are true and the Marines are guilty of some war crimes. I ask: Will this "artist" have the integrity to recant his position if these allegations prove to be untrue?

While satirical editorial cartoons are protected by the First Amendment, a fact I truly appreciate, I believe that this picture slanders the reputations of the millions of men who have, are currently and will in the future wear the uniform of the United States Marine Corps.

The public must not lose sight of the fact that it is extremely easy to malign the fine men and women in the military while the "artist" sits safely in his home.

But drive-by criticism of the military is fast becoming America's national pastime. The Marines are taking hits from all directions lately: they are brutal; too quick to marginalize Arabs and treat them as Other. Or, conversely, they are too sensitive:

Last week, military brass -- along with representatives from the terror-tied Council on American-Islamic Relations -- dedicated the first Muslim prayer center for the Marines as a symbol of the military's "religious tolerance" and "respect" for the faith the enemy uses to attack us. Already, plans are in the works to build by 2009 a bigger mosque at the Marine base in Quantico so Muslim service members can have a "proper place" to worship, and one that "honors their religious heritage," officials say, not realizing that the mosque can also be used by the enemy to build a Fifth Column inside the Marines.

The idea for the center came from Navy Lt. Abuhena Mohammed Saifulislam, a young, smooth-talking Muslim chaplain, who wanted a permanent place of worship -- and "education" -- for the growing number of soldiers who are interested in -- and converting to -- Islam.

Quantico has only 24 Muslims on base, so the mosque -- the first of its kind in the 230-year history of the Corps -- will also serve to introduce and draw other Marines to the faith. Large posters explaining how "Muslims love and respect Jesus" (but only as a minor prophet and not the son of God, which they view as blasphemous to Allah) line the inside of the white building. This is one way imam Saifulislam -- known on base simply as "Saif" -- bridges the faiths to reach out to Christian soldiers. Blacks are particularly susceptible to his pitch.

Apparently, whatever Saifulislam wants, he gets -- even at the terrorist prison camp at Gitmo, where he was first assigned after 9-11. There, he recommended that al-Qaida detainees be served halal meals -- including traditional dates and lamb -- prepared according to Islamic dietary law. The Gitmo menu now boasts 113 Muslim-appropriate meals for the benefit of finicky terrorist tummies.

That's not all. Thanks to Saifulislam's advice, our enemy now wakes to the sound of Muslim chaplains calling them to prayer instead of barking dogs or guards, who are now trained in Muslim sensitivity. Also thanks to Saifulislam, detainees can brush up on jihad by reading paperback Pentagon-issued copies of the Quran. They can even finger prayer beads and wear makeshift turbans and skull caps.

While at Gitmo, the Navy imam privately counseled al-Qaida prisoners in their native tongues of Urdu and Arabic. "I must give hope for them to cope," Saifulislam said. How thoughtful of him.

So, which is it? Are the military cold-blooded killers ready to fly into a murderous rage at the slightest provocation? This mind-numbingly idiotic slander is endlessly repeated by the mainstream media, notwithstanding the obvious logical difficulties posed by the simultaneous depiction of our troops as cold and calculating yet dangerously unstable: incapable of restraining their emotions. John Murtha's moral authority is unimpeachable. After all, Murtha is a former Marine who supports the troops by undermining their mission. And besides, and as we all know, the word of a Marine can be trusted... unless of course he's been accused by young journalism students and sources who are not quite what the media claims them to be.

Strangely, the investigative zeal and professional skepticism that lead both both pundits and journalists to endlessly scrutinize every Pentagon press release for contradictions are nowhere to be found when contradictions arise in their own statements. It's a shame. A little humility might, in David Ignatius' own words, allow them to view the military through a more realistic lens; one that "see(s) their enemies as human beings" instead of "consigning them to a different category"; one apparently without morals or human feeling. Who knows? They might even, one day, be willing to generously grant the military the same suspension of judgment they routinely extend to Islamic fundamentalists who deliberately target innocent men, women, and children.

What am I saying? That wouldn't be objective journalism, would it?

Posted by Cassandra at 07:18 AM | Comments (2)

June 13, 2006

Zarqawi And The Power Of Symbolism

The media, for the most part, continue to downplay the significance of killing Abu al-Musab Zarqawi, dismissing its importance as mostly symbolic:

Terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's death is a major symbolic victory. But it is unlikely to noticeably alter the tactical situation in Iraq. The damage Zarqawi has done in stirring an Iraqi insurgency is likely to continue.

I disagree with that assessment. While caveats are certainly in order (no one believes the terrorists will be crushed by a single setback), I find it amusing that the press de-emphasize the impact of "symbolic" victories in a war of ideas. Make no mistake here: this war is not about defeating a loosely-organized group of thugs. It is about defeating - definitively - the ideology which binds them together and gives them purpose. Several days ago, the WaPo finally asked terrorism experts how they thought Zarqawi's death would affect the insurgency. Unsurprisingly they were far more positive about the long-term effects of bagging the face of al Qaeda in Iraq:

The death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi could mark a turning point for al-Qaeda and the global jihadist movement, according to terrorism analysts and intelligence officials.

Until he was killed Wednesday by U.S. forces, the Jordanian-born guerrilla served as Osama bin Laden's proxy in Iraq, attracting hundreds if not thousands of foreign fighters under the al-Qaeda banner. At the same time, Zarqawi had grown into a strategic headache for al-Qaeda's founders by demonstrating an independent streak often at odds with their goals.

Zarqawi gave a boost to the al-Qaeda network by giving it a highly visible presence in Iraq at a time when its original leaders went into hiding or were killed after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States. He established al-Qaeda's first military beachhead and training camps outside Afghanistan.

He was also a master media strategist, using the Internet to post videotaped beheadings of hostages and assert responsibility for some of Iraq's deadliest suicide attacks, usually in the name of al-Qaeda.

Admittedly, that "highly visible presence" was not always a net positive for al Qaeda:

Despite written pleas from bin Laden's deputy to change his tactics, Zarqawi alienated allies in the Iraqi insurgency as well as Arab public opinion by killing hundreds of Muslims with suicide bombings. Zarqawi, a Sunni Muslim, repeatedly attacked Shiite shrines and leaders in a bid to fuel an Iraqi civil war, instead of primarily fighting the U.S. military and its partners.

But unlike the American media, terrorism experts see his death as a crushing blow to al Qaeda's operations both inside and outside of Iraq:

Some European and Arab intelligence officials said they had seen signs before Zarqawi's death that the number of foreign fighters going to Iraq was already waning. For recruitment efforts, the importance of Zarqawi's death "cannot be overestimated," Germany's foreign intelligence chief, Ernst Uhrlau, told the Berlin newspaper Der Tagesspiegel.

Guido Steinberg, an expert on Islamic radicalism at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin, said other groups of foreign fighters that kept a loose alliance with Zarqawi, such as Ansar al-Sunna, might turn away from al-Qaeda in Iraq now that he is gone.

"It's a great loss for the these jihadi networks," said Steinberg, who served as a counterterrorism adviser to Gerhard Schroeder when he was chancellor of Germany. "I don't think there is any person in Iraq able to control this network the way Zarqawi did. It's very decentralized. He was the only person in Iraq who could provide the glue.

"By losing Zarqawi, they run the danger of losing Iraq as a battlefield to the nationalist insurgents and others who aren't interested in bin Laden or the global jihad."

And this is the larger significance of Zarqawi's death: it isolates the Iraqi insurgency and may well provide a disincentive for foreign groups who might be inclined to support them. Via Betsy Newmark, there are also signs that Zarqawi's death may weaken al Qaeda's ability to recruit new volunteers worldwide:

Since Zarqawi's death, Al Qaeda seems to be having some recruiting worries.
Two official statements posted on the Web site used by al-Qaida in Iraq urged Muslims to volunteer to fight in Iraq, saying al-Zarqawi's death should remind them of their "duty" to fight infidels.

"Iraq is the front line of defense for Islam and Muslims. So, don't miss this opportunity to join the Mujahedeen and the martyrs," said one signed by Abdullah Rasheed al-Baghdadi, who succeeded al-Zarqawi this year as head of the Mujahedeen Shura Council, the umbrella group that includes al-Qaida in Iraq.

"This is a compulsory duty for all Muslims in these days," it said.

Another statement in the name of Hamil al-Rashash (Holder of the Rifle) struck a more desperate note.

"Help, help! Support, support!" it said addressing the Islamic ummah, or community. "Assistance, assistance! Where is your money? And where are your men? There is no excuse for you.

"America won't benefit you. History won't be merciful to you. Wake up before it gets too late and before all the curses of Earth and heaven fall upon you."

In addition to discouraging the insurgency, Zarqawi's unfortunate demise has awakened hope in his victims. There is no denying his reign of terror took its toll on Iraqis. The good news inspired Alaa to come out of semi-retirement, which was a great joy to his devoted readers:

...today is a good day. The urge to express my feelings is so strong that I am back at the keyboard despite the terrible apathy that has gripped me these last months. You can probably guess at some of the reasons for this state of mind. I am not going into details. Only it seems to me that intelligent people should not pay such a high price just to learn some few facts that have always seemed to me quite simple and mundane.

But I don’t plan to go into that today, because today is a good day indeed. An arch zombie has been blown to smithereens.

...I am not going to dwell on the reaction of people like Al Jazeera (again) who showed their true color today without even any attempt at dissimulation. So this arch murderer of day laborers, bakers, school children and etc. etc., this master be-header of poor hostages and planner of car bombings and all kinds of the most outrageous orgies of mass killings; this man is to be mourned and regretted as a martyr and mujahid etc. etc.!!! Yes, friends, believe it or not these sentiments were expressed openly and repeated hysterically on mass media like the notorious one referred to above. I still cannot understand why when whole countries and regimes are labeled as rogue states and suffer sanctions and the like when, here we have an official state owned media outlet that has played a major role in inciting and aiding and abetting the most violent forms of terrorism; and nothing has been done against them and those who sponsor and finance them. Indeed the state that harbors this state of affairs enjoys the blessings and the best of relations with the west and the free world.

But it is not that which I want most to say today. I want to congratulate the valiant eagles of the American Air force and all the men of the U.S. Army, the Iraqi security forces and all those involved in executing this just punishment and for being the instrument of providential justice. Blessed be the wombs that bore you, and please accept this expression of gratitude and love from an ordinary Iraqi man. And as for you American people rest assured that our faith in victory has not shaken on single iota. I can only end with the words of our dear President Bush: “God Bless Iraq and May God continue to Bless America”.

Al Salam Alaykum

But perhaps the most visible second-order effect
occurred, not in Iraq or Afghanistan, but in far-off Palestine:

Members of an armed Fatah militia which claimed to have kidnapped an Israeli Saturday transferred the individual in question, a U.S. citizen, to the custody of the Palestinian Authority before dawn Sunday.

The PA security forces subsequently handed the American over to the Israel Defense Forces. Defense officials believe once the militants discovered the person was indeed an American citizen, they took steps to end the matter quickly.

"Apparently, the kidnappers did not want to end up like Zarqawi," a defense official said.

All of which reminds the half-vast editorial staff of an age-old lesson: the only way to defeat bullies is to stand up to them. Appeasing them only encourages their aggression.

A blow to al Qaeda's morale, organization, and recruiting efforts, a lessening of the influx of foreign fighters, a renewal of hope and confidence in war-torn Iraq, and an object lesson to would-be malefactors worldwide; all in all, not bad for a largely symbolic victory.

Never underestimate the power of symbols. In a complicated world, the awakening of hope may be our best weapon in the war on terror.

Posted by Cassandra at 05:56 AM | Comments (3)

June 09, 2006

Hearts And Minds?

Via Betsy Newmark:

The Iraqi journalist who blogs at Baghdad Treasure has not supported the Americans' role in Iraq or the new government. But the death of Zarqawi changed how he felt about his country and the Americans.
We held our breath for a second and then a loud “Mabrook” [Congratulations] was said by one of the radio stations reporters. Few minutes later, journalists started congratulating each other. Some danced in the hall, female journalists halulated, and others rushed to call their offices of the braking news. The news of his death made up our day.

I called the office immediately to confirm to them the rumor that was spread. After I hang up, a flashback of images of people died in the terrorists attacks came to my mind. Um Bashar, whom we all miss, was among the pictures. She was all dressed in white smiling as if she was telling me. “I can rest now, B. tell Bashar that I am comfortable now.” Then she disappeared but the other images did not.

I remembered my mother’s cries and voice when I called her after a car bomb exploded in front of the school where she used to teach. I recalled the TV images of the burnt children and their parents in the middle of a huge flame.

The image of the collapsed apartment building and the pile of bodies I saw in a restaurant bombed by Zarqawi’s car bombs came among the other images that will never leave me rest even if I die.

Finally, he is dead. I couldn’t believe one day this pig will be killed. Finally, the brutal Zarqawi, whose bloody campaign of beheadings and suicide bombings made him the worst terrorist in the world, was killed. Finally the thousands of families and victims he killed will rest in peace.

I have to say that I haven’t been happy like this for a long time. When I met my other colleagues back in the office, I waved the victory sign, which I also haven’t done since a long time ago.

I know that attacks will increase. I know more people are going to die. I know mistakes are going to be continued. I know everything will not be fixed soon like in the fairy tales. But I am happy that this man is killed. I believe his death is the real first step: the thousand-miles road starts with one step.

Go read the rest. Reading through so many American attempts to minimize what Zarqawi's death means to Iraqis, I am reminded of something I've commented on before: the stunning cluelessness of pundits who deplore military intervention in Iraq while furiously denouncing the White House for not doing more about Darfur. Hussein used WMDs to slaughter 5,000 Kurds in Halabja and systematically tried to wipe them out during the Al-Anfal campaign. Human Rights watch estimates that 182,000 Iraqi civilians died during Al-Anfal alone, and that was neither the beginning nor the end of his oppression. Yet it was another 15 years before anyone intervened:

Between 1979 and Hussein's ouster, roughly half a million Kurds were picked up by Iraqi security forces and never returned, Ihsan says.

"We have been searching for missing people for a long, long time, since 1991," he says. "But we started the active searching process after the liberation of Iraq."

We [have] started returning bodies to Kurdistan," Ihsan says. "We managed to get 512 bodies [of members of the Barzani clan] that had been killed by Saddam Hussein in 1983."

These are just some of the over 8,000 male members of the Barzani clan arrested in July 1983 by Saddam's security force. Seized in the northern province of Irbil, they were then transported to southern Iraq. Nothing has been heard of them since.

Another case centers on the massive forced displacement of the Kurdish population between February and September 1988 -- known as the Anfal (Arabic for "spoils") campaign -- which left tens of thousands of people dead.

"The unknown fate [of a loved one] creates big social and economic problems for us," Ihsan says. "We have some girls who've been engaged for more than 23 years. Still they are waiting for their beloved. We have wives still waiting for their husbands. We have daughters still waiting for their fathers to return. We were sure that [the missing] had been killed but these people did not believe it. Returning the bodies to them will put an end to their sad lives [of waiting] and the pain."

So far, the team has located 284 sites of mass graves of Kurds across Iraq. With time, it hopes to exhume them all.

But strangely there is little concern for the Iraqi victims of Saddam Hussein. Instead, many in the anti-war camp complain bitterly that we are unable to intervene in Darfur because our military is tied up in Iraq.

We are told we should never have gone to war without UN approval, though that approval has not been forthcoming in the case of Darfur. Nor was it forthcoming in Kosovo, or even in Iraq in the face of 12 years of open defiance of UN resolutions and the 1991 cease-fire. To this day, anti-war proponents continue to argue that Saddam was "contained", though that must have been of little comfort to the Iraqis he killed, tortured, and maimed for life under UN "supervision", nor to the tens of thousands who starved while Saddam funneled humanitarian relief funds into the hands of companies with known ties to terrorists:

One link ran from a U.N.-approved buyer of Saddam's oil, Galp International Trading Corp., involved near the very start of the program, to a shell company called ASAT Trust in Liechtenstein, linked to a bank in the Bahamas, Bank Al Taqwa. Both ASAT Trust and Bank Al Taqwa were designated on the U.N.'s own terror-watch list, shortly after 9/11, as entities "belonging to or affiliated with Al Qaeda." This Liechtenstein trust and Bahamian bank were linked to two closely connected terrorist financiers, Youssef Nada and Idris Ahmed Nasreddin — both of whom were described in 2002 by Treasury as "part of an extensive financial network providing support to Al Qaeda and other terrorist related organizations," and both of whom appear on the U.N.'s list of individuals belonging to or affiliated with al Qaeda.

The other tie between Oil-for-Food and al Qaeda, noted by Perelman, ran through another of Saddam's handpicked, Oil-for-Food oil buyers, Swiss-based Delta Services — which bought oil from Saddam in 2000 and 2001, at the height of Saddam's scam for grafting money out of Oil-for-Food by way of under-priced oil contracts. Now shut down, Delta Services was a subsidiary of a Saudi Arabian firm, Delta Oil, which had close ties to the Taliban during Osama bin Laden's heyday in Afghanistan in the late 1990s.

One would think that, given the ambiguity of the situation in Darfur and our recent experience with post-war chaos and insurgency in the Middle East, we might see more caution about interfering in Darfur:

Indeed, to avoid further catastrophes like Darfur, the United States should announce a policy of never intervening to help provocative rebels, diplomatically or militarily, so long as opposing armies avoid excessive retaliation. This would encourage restraint on both sides. Instead, intervention resources should be redirected to support "people power" movements that pursue change peacefully, as they have done successfully over the past two decades in the Philippines, Indonesia, Serbia and elsewhere.

What boggles the mind is the liberal insistence that only the UN (with its sterling track record of humanitarian intervention and respect for the rights of women and children) can lend legitimacy to the reconstruction of Iraq. Where are the calls for UN accountability? And why are we so determined to tear ourselves to pieces in a fury of self-loathing while giving a pass to dicatators and corrupt UN officials?

Yes, truth is generally more complicated than idealized fiction. But here's a simple truth: if Americans are responsible for war crimes in Haditha, the U.S. military will prosecute and punish them long before any semblance of justice is meted out from the tribunals for Rwanda, the Balkans, Sudan and Iraq, which have already plodded along for years.

What must America's enemies think when members of the American political and intellectual classes find ways to mitigate the responsibility of the butchers of Darfur while condemning the men of Kilo Company for murder in Haditha?

Americans have a special obligation to know about and condemn the moral failures of their countrymen -- we are our own moral arbiters first. The practice of self-criticism above self-interest, the search for truth over fanaticism and the pursuit of justice over partiality distinguish a tolerant, democratic society.

But surely there is also an obligation to put that self criticism in context, to grant members of the American military the same presumption of innocence afforded petty thieves, to recognize the complexities of a conflict with a relentless and remorseless enemy, and to provide some perspective to the very broad scale of human savagery in Iraq and around the globe.

The answer, I fear, lies in American arrogance, which is the antithesis of American exceptionalism. For all too many, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are all about us. There is precious little concern for (or awareness of) the best interests of those we are purportedly trying to help, as human tragedies become nothing more than an avenue for political attacks.

Death stalked Iraq and Afghanistan long before the first American troops set foot there. And try as we might, we cannot keep death completely at bay even now. What we can do is give the Iraqis the chance to determine their own future, to live free of fear one day. The difference between us and Saddam ought to be plain, even to the shallowest minds.

What makes us different is what we are willing to fight for:

All nations' soldiers commit crimes, and decent nations punish them. But it is not true that "what makes us an exceptional nation with the capacity to lead and inspire the world" is that we recognize we can be barbaric and that we punish barbarism.

What makes us exceptional is that we stand for liberty, and that we are willing to fight for liberty. We don't need to "prove" we are different from the jihadists by bringing our own soldiers, if they have done something wrong, to justice. Of course we must and will do this. But our doing this "proves" nothing. Even if there were ten Hadithas, we would still not have to "prove" that we are "different from the jihadists."

What we do have to prove is that we are strong enough to fight this war, and intelligent enough to win it.

In the end, it is not compassion, fine words, or lofty sentiments, but the will to stay the course that will win the hearts and minds of ordinary Iraqis:

It occurred to me that this time, Maliki and the U.S. officials did not let us down when the criminal Zarqawi appeared on TV in his latest video that provoked all Iraqis. They all said his days are numbered and they will get him dead or alive and they did.
That is what makes America different: the will to stand up for what we believe in; even to fight for it if necessary. May it ever be so.

Posted by Cassandra at 12:15 PM | Comments (4)

June 08, 2006

Michael Berg Feels "Only Sadness" Zarqawi Is Dead

Unbelievable:

"I have no sense of relief, just sadness that another human being had to die."

Berg pontification continues:

"As the poet John Donne said, any man's death diminishes me. It doesn't bring my son back, and this will just bring a new cycle of revenge killings,"

It also might prevent more innocents from having their heads sawn off while they're still alive, Mr. Berg. Did that thought ever cross your mind? Newsbusters follows what will certainly be the media graf during the next few days:

It's sad that within minutes of announcing Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's death, the network morning shows were already carrying criticism of the Bush administration. Not only did NBC invite Sen. Joe Biden to attack Bush incompetence (funny day for that!), ABC's Bill Weir reminded the audience that Zarqawi beheaded American Nicholas Berg, and then replayed Berg's left-wing dad saying at the time that he had no desire for his son's killers to be killed. Weir then reported that he spoke to Berg's father this morning, and he condemned the Zarqawi killing as part of an endless cycle of retribution.

...and CNN acts quickly to damp down any irrational exuberance viewers might feel at Zarqawi's death:


The MSM had to find a way to downplay the significance of the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq. Whereas he had been portrayed as the key to violence in the country, now that he's dead, he is described as just one among 'many thousands'.

And sure enough, on CNN this morning at about 6:20 AM, there was Octavia Nasr CNN's senior editor for Arab affairs, interviewed by host Soledad O'Brien, suggesting that Zarqawi's death might not really be such a 'big deal', after all. Nasr reported that beyond Al Qaeda, there are thousands of other, home-grown insurgent groups in Iraq, 'many' of which are more powerful that Al Qaeda.

Presumably this means the media obsession with taking out bin Laden has been somewhat overblown...

The important thing is to realize that Zarqawi's death is actually a setback in the War on Terror:

"We have the response here now [to the Zarqawi killing] and it is not good. There has been another bombing. Thirteen people are dead in central Baghdad. That is apparently the current reaction from the insurgents to Zarqawi's death."

...or maybe not:

Imus: "How do we know that's a reaction to that, Mike?"

Boettcher immediately started to back down: "We don't know for sure, Don. You are right."

Imus: "This could be just another bombing. They are trying to blow the place up everyday."

A by-now abject Boettcher: "You are absolutely right."

Keep spinning. You've got to love the media. Even when we get something right, it's another miserable failure.

UPDATE: Aieeee!!!! ... it now seems that BUSH LIED!!!! about Zarqawi's death!!!!!

Just after Bush finished telling the world that the hit on al-Zarqawi was the result of Iraqi-U.S. cooperation and thanks in part to intelligence provided by Iraqis, an NBC analyst says that is NOT true.

He said that Iraqi forces were instead refusing to cooperate with U.S. troops and that this hit was purely the result of U.S. military efforts.

In addition, it appears that al-Zarqawi was practically stumbled upon. Seems the U.S. was tracking Zarqawi's spiritiual advisor when they discovered that there were plans for a 'top level' al Qaeda meeting, but they were unsure whether or not al-Zarqawi would be a part of that meeting.

What a fiasco. If we weren't 100% sure Zarqawi would be inside, obviously the entire exercise was another blunder by desperate US forces who are losing the war on terror.

Snarky wench...

zarqawi_dead.jpg

UPDATE: Karen Shacham was kind enough to inform us that CNN has a live feed of reactions to Zarqawi's death. Click on Pipeline (top right of home page) to access. There is a free 14-day trial offer.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:19 AM | Comments (12)

What Experts Think Of Murtha's "Troops Are Stressed" Theory

Via Cory Dauber:

Among the symptoms of PTSD, Hansen said, are irritability, insomnia, occasional flashbacks to traumatic incidents, anxiety and depression. But violence, including battlefield retaliations, rarely result from stress, he and other experts on the condition said.

"People don't kill other people because they are stressed," Hansen said. "Can it make them cranky or impulsive? Sure. But pinning these things on PTSD is simply not scientific. This condition does not cause otherwise normal people to commit crimes."

"Combat stress is not an excuse," said Col. Dan Kessler, 45, of Latrobe, Pa., the 3rd Brigade's deputy commander. "Discipline and leadership are the bedrock of any organization, and that should overcome whatever these guys go through."

The Veterans Affairs Department's National Center for PTSD, in White River Junction, Vt., lists dozens of potential "effects of traumatic experiences," from drug and alcohol abuse to gastrointestinal problems. Violence is not mentioned.

An excellent article detailing some of the proactive steps the military is taking to alleve combat stress. Previous posts on PTSD:

Using Virtual Reality to treat PTSD

Debunking the PTSD Hype

Treating PTSD

Political Exploitation of PTSD

Posted by Cassandra at 08:14 AM | Comments (0)

Al-Zarqawi Not Just Merely, But Quite Severely Dead

"Al Qaeda is the biggest threat to the world. Al Zarqawi's death is a huge victory in the war … This is good news for all Muslims and people of all religions. He was killing people of all faiths. I hope the situation in Iraq will improve now."

--Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Zahir Azimi

zarqawi.jpg Via Mark in Mexico (may a thousand blessings be upon him), it appears that Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi has gone to meet his 72 white raisins of crystal clarity. And even better, a Cotillion gal was first on the scene. You go, grrrrrrl! Details:

...al-Zarqawi and a key lieutenant, spiritual adviser Sheik Abd-Al-Rahman, were at an isolated safe house at 6:15 p.m. on Wednesday.

"Tips and intelligence from Iraqi senior leaders from his network led forces to al-Zarqawi and some of his associates who were conducting a meeting approximately eight kilometers north of Baquba when the airstrike was launched.

Baquba is a volatile area northeast of Baghdad in Diyala province, a mixed Shiite-Sunni jurisdiction. There have been many roadside bombings and shootings throughout the province and within the week, severed heads were found in fruit boxes there.

"Iraqi police were first on the scene after the air strike, and elements of Multi-National Division North, arrived shortly thereafter," Casey said. "We have been able to identify al-Zarqawi by fingerprint verification, facial recognition and known scars."

The WSJ elaborates, with reactions from world leaders:

"Today, al-Zarqawi was eliminated," Mr. Maliki told a news conference, drawing loud applause from reporters in the hall where he made the announcement, flanked by U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and U.S. Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq. "Those who disrupt the course of life, like al-Zarqawi, will have a tragic end," Mr. Khalilzad said.

Mr. Khalilzad added "the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is a huge success for Iraq and the international war on terror."

Mr. Maliki said the air strike was the result of intelligence reports provided to Iraqi security forces by residents in the area, and U.S. forces acted on the information. He said the hunt for Mr. Zarqawi was "an Iraqi intelligence operation," dismissing reports of a Jordian role. Earlier, a Jordanian official with knowledge of the operation said Jordan provided the U.S. military with information from its own sources in Iraq that helped pinpoint Mr. Zarqawi's location near Baqouba. Mr. Maliki said the Jordanian information wasn't about Mr. Zarqawi but about "someone else."

The announcement came six days after the terror leader appeared in a videotape, railing against Shiites in Iraq and saying militias are raping women and killing Sunnis and the community must fight back.

The WaPo provides a slightly different account.

An Interior Ministry inspector general, who refused to be identified, said an aide of Zarqawi was arrested last night in a raid by U.S. and Iraqi special-operations forces. The aide led U.S. and Iraqi officials to a site outside Baghdad, the Interior Ministry official said. After a fierce firefight, authorities entered the site and found the bodies of 13 people. The captured aide identified one as Zarqawi.

Apparently, a video recently released by Al-Zarqawi proved to be his undoing:

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi… was the apparent victim of his own hubris after Iraqi leaders said a video he put on the web helped lead them to him.

In April, he released a videotape showing his face for the first time in an apparent attempt to reinforce his image as the leader of Iraq's insurgents and a hero to Sunni extremists across the region.

The Jordanian-born militant is believed to have personally beheaded at least two American hostages, Nicholas Berg in April 2004 and Eugene Armstrong in September 2004. The United States put a $25 million bounty on his head, the same amount as Al Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden.

In the past year, he moved his campaign beyond Iraq's borders, carrying out a Nov. 9, 2005 triple bombing against hotels in Amman that killed 60 people, as well as other attacks in Jordan and even a rocket attack from Lebanon into northern Israel.

He also sought to expand his attempts to spark civil war between Sunni Muslims and Shiites across the Middle East. He lectured Sunnis to stand up against Shiites in an audiotape posted on the Web last week in which he railed against Shiites for four hours, calling them enemies of Islam.

But that strategy may have backfired:

… Zarqawi's increasingly bloody attacks on the Shias are alienating many in the insurgency, including some Sunni Muslims who are its strongest backers.

A letter released by US forces in 2005 - allegedly authored by Bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and addressed to Zarqawi - appears to support this.

In the letter, whose authenticity remains in doubt, Zawahiri purportedly cautions Zarqawi that indiscriminate attacks on the Shia are eroding support for al-Qaeda.

Some think Zarqawi may even have been “scheduled for martyrdom” by elements of the insurgency:

The relationship between terrorist leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi and and the mainline al Qaeda leadership continues to deteriorate. Zarqawi's recent audio messages have not only attacked the U.S. and the Shia-dominated government in Iraq, but also Iran. He's even claiming that the U.S., Iran, and Shia in general, are in cahoots to destroy Islam. He has also called for continued attacks against Shia.

Given that Zarqawi has become a loose cannon and that his actions are handicapping Al Qaeda's efforts, it seems reasonable to expect that an accident may befall him at some point in the near future. If handled right it can be made to look like he went out in a blaze of glory fighting American troops or that he was foully murdered. Either way, al Qaeda gets rid of a problem and gains another "martyr."


Though authorities differ on how much influence Al-Zarqawi actually exercised over events in Iraq, his bid to divide Iraq along sectarian lines appears to have failed:

[Iraqi Prime Minister] Maliki said intelligence from Iraqi people had helped track down Zarqawi, who had a $25m price on his head - the same bounty as that offered by the US for al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.

What happened today is a result of co-operation for which we have been asking from our masses and the citizens of our country," he said.

The prime minister urged Iraqis to join political dialogue rather than violence, vowing to "carry on on the same path... by killing all the terrorists".

Shortly after the Zarqawi announcement, the Iraqi parliament approved Mr Maliki's nominees for the key government posts of defence and interior ministers. The two crucial roles had remained unfilled despite the formation of a coalition government.

Pajamas Media has a great interview from Wretchard with Omar of Iraq the Model on the reaction to Zarqawi's death. Omar says, [and please excuse my slow typing fingers if I get a word or two wrong here] "This is the happiest news we get for a long time...It came really as a surprise... There is a general feeling of happiness in Baghdad right now, but...there is also...concern about ...revenge attacks."

"...I hope the Iraqi government and US forces will use the momentum of today's achievement, of today's victory to push forward the attack to eliminate what's left of al-Qaeda and the allied insurgent groups..."

Omar said the attack has rid Iraq of:

"...a very dangerous, bloody, murderous man who has killed thousands of people for no reason...the region has got to be safer...these are all criminals and they must be punished, they must be stopped..."

More Iraq the Model reax here:

In the first official confirmation, PM al-Maliki said that Jordan has provided intelligence that was used in the raid on Zaraqwi's hiding place but he also stressed that tips from locals were the primary lead to Zarqawi's exact location and these were the information according to which the missiles were guided.

Al-Maliki said that among the 7 killed with Zarqawi were two women who were responsible for collecting intelligence for the al-Qaeda HQ cell.

Betsy Newmark sees the attack as another nail in al-Qaeda's coffin:

Two months ago we captured documents in Iraq from an Al Qaeda leader bemoaning how difficult things had gotten for them in Iraq. The author acknowledged that Al Qaeda could do no more than be a "daily annoyance."

The author fretted about the difficulties Al Qaeda had in organizing and leading attacks in Iraq. Well, that leadership is going to be in a tougher place now. When they realize that someone they know rolled over on Zarqawi, they're going to all start suspecting each other and have a harder time organizing themselves. And other Iraqis are going to be more willing to turn in the insurgents as they gain more confidence in the Iraq government.

The one really strong weapon that Al Qaeda has in Iraq is the ability to kill a bunch of civilians and then use the media to spread terror...I thought the self-acknowledged weakness of Al Qaeda in Iraq needed to be revisited in light of Zarqawi's death. You'll see a lot of people on the media and politicians talking today about how this doesn't mean the end of the terror in Iraq, and that is true. But it is one more sign of how weakened they are.

But not everyone thinks Zarqawi's death is good news, which leads the half-vast editorial staff to ponder snidely that, were we to bag bin Laden tomorrow, that would suddenly prove not to have been a big deal, either:

The only good news about this is: 1) Bush gets to spin it as more 'progress' and 2) our troops get a morale boost since Zarqawi was a primary target in Iraq, and God knows, they needed some some good news.

But, other than this, it changes nothing. Al-Queda is not set up like a snake; cut off the head and the body dies. Not like that at all. And besides, al-Queda is only a very, very small part of the violence taking place in Iraq today. The sectarian violence has a life of its own and the civil war is wosening by the month, whether al-Queda is there or not. They are not interdependent. So, the civil unrest and sectarian violence and al-Queda presence continues on without, the now martyred, Zarqawi.

Meanwhile, over at the Daily Kos, there is dancing in the streets:

Tomorrow morning the president will deliver his few lines and a smirk. And somehow he will manage to convince the talking heads that this is a turning point (along with Mission Accomplished, Saddam's capture, Falujah, and voting). And all those people who had never heard of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi before FOX interrupted their news about a shark attack will let out a giant "yee haw."

Some guy on ABC is saying this is a "nail in the coffin of Al Queda." Bull shit. This guy was a face, a name, a few menacing lines about impending doom to us. The victory doesn't lie in removing this man, nor any other true terrorists in Iraq. Instead victory is in making a peaceful nation in a land fractured by ethnicity and then war.

Where is Osama? Where are the batillions [sic] of trained Iraqis? Doesn't matter, we got this guy, right? We wrote a 25 million check as a reward, and get a new headline to bump off Haditha.

If you're looking for more news, Topix.net and Memeorandum are providing one-stop shopping for all your Al-Zarqawi needs. James Joyner also has a superb roundup.

The Weekly Standard offerssome great background info on Al-Zarqawi's activities before his unfortunate demise. See also the WaPo bio of Zarqawi.

Posted by Cassandra at 05:11 AM | Comments (12)

June 07, 2006

Go. Now.

Must read of the day.

Perhaps the week.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:58 AM | Comments (2)

The War In Pictures

Truth will come to sight; murder cannot be hid long.
- The Merchant of Venice. Act ii. Sc. 2.

"I'd never have believed it, had I not seen it with my own two eyes."

"Seeing is believing."

"A picture is worth a thousand words."

How often in life do we prefer the evidence of our eyes over what we hear with our own ears? After all, words can be deceptive. People twist the truth, beguile our hearts with honeyed phrases or pour subtle poison in our ears to make us doubt where we once loved. But what we see with our own two eyes must be the truth, isn't it? The eyes don't deceive us. They are an unfiltered and neutral recorder of life's ups and downs, its glowing victories and bitter defeats; those quiet moments of beauty amid the storms of daily events.

They are, aren't they? Of course they are. We can trust our eyes:

baby2.jpg

Again and again throughout this war, amateur photographs have exposed the flaws of the military's carefully constructed image of discipline. Photographs made Abu Ghraib a symbol of shame throughout the world. And photographs and video images are again undermining the military's cherished reputation for calm under fire and heroic self-restraint.

The most horrifying images are not published or shown on TV, though they're easy to find on the Web. But the ones we are confronted with are bad enough: A small child, a victim of a devastating and controversial U.S. airstrike in Ishaqi, is dressed in baby-blue, his eyes are closed, and his tiny, gently clenched hand rests by his side. He might be asleep, except that the photograph, which ran in Newsweek, shows a mangled, bloody arm next to him. The unidentified, shredded limb (does it belong to yet another child?) reaching into the center of the image might well stand for all the rest of these photographs that prick the conscience: They seem to come from the margins of our attention, they reach in and put their bloody imprint on a war that we wish had more innocence and calm to it.

The military has concluded that there was no U.S. wrongdoing in the March 15 Ishaqi attack that left the child dead.

But the photograph can't tell us that, can it? The damage, however, is done: the image seared into our brains, an indelible reminder of the innocent victims of war. The world will not forget.

We will not be allowed to forget.

higginssmear.jpg And the grim scenery of war continues to haunt us long after the words which give it context, or utterly fail to do so, have passed beyond recollection. Sometimes, we never learn the real story behind the photos burned into our retinas. Or we learn it too late, long after they have circled the globe, passing from newspaper to newspaper, from web site to web site; leaping like a juicy rumor from Inbox to Inbox on a million PCs, replicating like a virus.

Photographs make us all silent witnesses to the tragedy of war. They bring the carnage into our living rooms: suggesting, urging us to act, tugging at our consciences, wrenching our guts, whispering that all is not well; that it can never be well in a world where babies bleed and their parents sit, numbed with overwhelming grief or wail out their agony and their anger.

They cry out for a justice that can never come quite swiftly enough, that can never assauge the pain that slices through our guts each time our eyes are confronted with the grisly reminders that war is, indeed, hell:

The U.S. military is still looking into the Haditha killings. It's also looking into the possibility of a military coverup, which kept the killings under wraps for half a year.

Photographs are immediate. Investigations are by necessity methodical and often slow. These two different senses of time -- the immediate and the methodical -- are now in troubling conflict. A dead child cries out for immediate response; the military investigates. We see photographs of men doubled over with grief, tear-stained faces, mouths contorted in pain, and the pang is instant; the military investigates. A boy standing next to the bodies of his family or friends looks up at his elders with a blank stare on his face, an image that puts death and childhood in excruciating proximity; the military investigates.

Photographs may play an important role in some of these investigations. But it is the degree to which the photographs exist in a world of their own, apart from the military's cautiously worded statements, that is increasingly perplexing. Throughout the war, the notion of two realities has dogged the warmakers. Is the president living in a world of good news and progress and missions accomplished, while our soldiers and the Iraqi population live in a world of chaos and death and uncertainty? Are the media presenting a world of antiseptic images, bloodless and vague, mere suggestions of a carnage they know all too well but dare not make explicit to the public?

We know, we believe, what we see, and the evidence of our eyes is compelling. But what of the evidence we never see? Has there been no single shred of decency to come from all the blood shed in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Where are the pictures of the schools and roads built, of children playing, of the thousand minor celebrations amid the chaos of war? Where are the moments of peace amid the chaos, the visual reminders of the progress we're making, the perspective that might stiffen our spines and straighten our shoulders? Where are the photos that could remind us why, for uncounted centuries, men have been willing to face the horrors of war, have been willing to kill, and bleed, and die so that perhaps one day, future generations may greet each new day without fear, shoulders unbowed, faces untroubled by the specter of sudden violence? Not on the front pages of our newspapers, that's for certain.

context.jpg

The war passes before our weary eyes each day in pictures.

Pictures of Abu Ghuraib bow our heads in bitter shame, but there are none of Saddam's torture chambers to awaken fury and stern resolution in our hearts. No severed tongues, hands, ears; no women shamed and defiled, no silent screams from half-exhumed corpses in a mass grave, no tiny femurs pointing like silent accusations from the dust of a once-great civilization. No bodies in free-fall, plummeting from a flaming skyscraper. No imam's shade twisting in a doorframe, his only crime that he dared to oppose desperate men bent on preventing the birth of a democracy. No child's forlorn corpse, its guts spilling out: turned into an obscene booby trap for the unwary soldier who stands with tears of pity dropping from his eyes. He reaches out his hand...

...but we don't see what happens next, nor the grisly obscenity that led to his death. We will see him only once more in this life, as one of the Faces of the Fallen, a testament to yet another one of America's humiliating failures.

Those are inconvenient truths, judged too upsetting for our eyes. We don't need to see them.

We might get the wrong idea, you see.

And so, in the end, what we are left with is an endless parade of horror, a veritable feast of death and destruction. Carnage and mayhem, cruelty and fear and grief all jumbled up like some obscene salad for our delectation. And we do feast our eyes. We can't stop ourselves. We are afraid to look and yet, transfixed, we cannot quite bring ourselves to avert our gaze.

baby.jpg We can trust what our eyes tell us, can't we?

Sure we can.

And the only image that fades, as the war grinds on, is the one with which we prepared for battle: the fantasy, so beloved of Americans, of a clean, surgical, decent war...

Fade to black.


Update: I should have just let Jimmie talk.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:31 AM | Comments (10)

June 06, 2006

Selected Quotes Do Not A Reasoned Argument Make

No wonder the Right and Left can’t talk about the war on terror reasonably.

In the HuffPo, Peter Daou makes a bizarre case: in his opinion, “radical rightwing bloggers” are “coming unhinged” about the recent accusations of atrocities in Iraq. Daou’s brief post manages to pile on every incomprehensibly overwrought tactic used to debate the war by those on the far Right and far Left.

To borrow the lexicon of the Left, Mr. Daou makes no attempt to avoid the very practice he criticizes: demonizing the intellectual "Other", who must at this point be feeling distinctly marginalized. Anyone who holds an opposing viewpoint, by definition, possesses horns, a forked tail, and cloven hooves; only the worst possible motives are imputed to them. And heaven forbid either side should admit there just might be a logical and morally defensible basis for disagreement with their comfy world view:

Both of these men are part of a lemming-like march of rightwingers who, in response to Haditha, have discarded any last shred of reason and are flailing wildly not just in the direction of liberals and other assorted "America-haters", but in the case of Steyn, at other hawks: "If you're one of the ever swelling numbers of molting hawks among the media, the political class and the American people for whom Haditha is the final straw, that's not a sign of your belated moral integrity but of your fundamental unseriousness."

Speaking of fundamental unseriousness, there are seriously fundamental flaws at the core of Steyn's argument. He writes: "Anyone who supports the launching of a war should be clear-sighted enough to know that, when the troops go in, a few of them will kill civilians, bomb schools, torture prisoners. It happens in every war in human history, even the good ones.... It might be a bombed mosque or a gunned-down pregnant woman or a slaughtered wedding party, but it will certainly be something. And, in the scales of history, it makes no difference to the justice of the cause and the need for victory." Setting aside the stunning callousness of Steyn's remarks, he hints at the problem without realizing it: Iraq is not a "good" war. And even those who supported the invasion are entitled to a change of heart as it spirals out of control.

But far from hinting that Iraq was unjustified, Steyn in fact believes Iraq is a good war. His whole argument rests on the premise that the Iraq invasion was justified and the commission of incidental crimes, though deeply troubling, does not wipe out that larger moral justification. It is hardly the act of someone who has "discarded any last shred of reason" to question the commitment of those who counsel retreat from a just war simply because incidental crimes have been committed. Is it not, by definition, fundamentally unserious to abandon a cause you once believed right, because it has been imperfectly executed? To quote an extreme example, would you stop trying to save a drowning child because it was taking too long, or her rescuers were not performing up to snuff?

Daou, however, feels justified in airily dismissing Steyn's position, because he assumes as fact that the war is unjust, a position he can hardly ascribe to Steyn's molting hawks. In Daou's circular reasoning, Steyn's critique of an argument he finds meritless and illogical (and which, by the way, Daou never bothers to refute), proves the Left's case! But of course, mes amis! The war, c'est unjuste! The thing speaks for itself! Displaying more flexibility than even the most ardent devotee of the Kama Sutra, Daou avoids addressing, much less countering, the logic of the Steyn quote he excerpts:

1. In all wars, crimes are committed.
2. If crimes are committed in all wars and some wars are just wars, then the fact that a crime has been committed does not, per se, make a war unjust.

In so doing, he ignores one of more ridiculous arguments made by some on the Left:

The very fact that Haditha occurred proves Iraq is an unjust war.

and the righty-refutation of that argument:

Well then so were the American Civil War, and the Revolution, and WWII, because atrocities were committed in all those wars too.

Daou continues:

My beef with Steyn and the many rightwing bloggers who are using Haditha as a tool to bash the left is that they are indulging in selective moral outrage. Their fury at Saddam knows no bounds, but they are strangely silent about other brutal dictators and human rights offenders. They decry every beheading in Iraq as a crime against the human race but can glibly write, "For three years, coalition forces in Iraq behaved so well that a salivating Vietnam culture had to make do with the thinnest of pickings: one depraved jailhouse, a prisoner on a dog leash with a pair of Victoria's Secret panties on his head and an unusually positioned banana." When Steyn suggests that a "gunned-down pregnant woman or a slaughtered wedding party ... makes no difference to the justice of the cause," he is displaying precisely the ethical bankruptcy that the war's opponents are fighting against.

Again, Daou disingenuously equates crimes committed in defiance of our laws, which have never been official tools of state policy with the systematic brutilization practiced by men like Saddam Hussein over three decades, implying that anyone who doesn't see the difference is as ethically bankrupt as those we're fighting against.


That's a bit of a stretch. How can crimes Daou himself, later in his post, characterizes as “grotesque deviations from the norm” (in other words, exceptions to the general rule) be just as bad as those committed intentionally on a daily basis? The answer is, they can't really. Saddam actually had named positions on his staff for torturers and men who raped and defiled the wives and daughters of political dissidents, but neither the Army nor the Marines have yet felt the need to create a special MOS for torturers or rapists.

Even the most partisan of commentators ought to be able to see some difference between a nation which punishes such crimes and one that rewards them with a dedicated job title and a paycheck. Talk about selective moral outrages: the core complaint of the right is that the Left (or at least Mr. Daou) is so busy screaming about the mote in his brother’s argument that he misses the beam in his own.

Nor is it honest to ignore that fact that most right-wing commentators have acknowledged that, if proved true, these charges are grave and merit swift and appropriate punishment. Some on the right have called for the accused Marines to be hanged – a fact Daou somehow missed in his selective sampling of the right side of the blogosphere. But then, like selective outrage, selective sampling doth not a defensible argument make. His next argument is equally disingenuous:

Last November I wrote about the straw men of Iraq: "Somber references to mass graves, Saddam gassing his people, liberating the Iraqis from a dictator, spreading freedom, etc., are second only to flag-waving and bumper-sticker "support" for the troops when it comes to feel-good justifications for the fiasco in Iraq. To human rights activists, this faux-bleeding heart conservatism rings hollow. Considering the unremitting suffering and killing and violence and abuse of innocents that takes place on this planet, it is intellectually dishonest to resort to a retroactive humanitarian rationalization for a war that was ostensibly defensive in nature. Especially when we callously ignore the plight of so many others who suffer in silence."

Yet for some strange reason, these same “human rights activists” don’t believe that humanitarian concerns were “enough” for us to intervene in Iraq. Why is that? Why should the US intervene in Darfur, but not in Iraq? The carnage went on for three decades in Iraq, twelve years of which were under UN "supervision". And Daou misstates the conservative argument, which was never

“We should intervene in Iraq solely because people are suffering”

but rather:

“People are suffering all over the world, but the US doesn’t have the resources to intervene every single time. However, in Iraq our national self-interest coincides with humanitarian concerns: we can do ourselves a favor by establishing democracy in Iraq and deposing Saddam, and we’ll be helping the Iraqis too.”

And calling the humanitarian argument “retroactive” neatly ignores the three rationales laid out in the President’s State of the Union address. This persistent and dishonest meme – along with the “imminent threat” meme – can only be swallowed whole by those who willfully and deliberately either ignore or distort the historical record.

Daou does say one thing I agree with:

In their rush to ascribe malicious motives to anyone who draws attention to the horrors in Iraq, these people ignore the obvious, i.e. that the greater the aberration, the more newsworthy, not the less.
Unfortunately, he ignores the large number of righty commentators who have expressed the strongest possible disgust for what happened at Haditha, as well as those who have demanded that the accused be held to a higher standard if they are found guilty. He also neatly ignores any number of lefty sites who have condemned the Marines in advance of a trial, rather putting the lie to this assertion:
In other words, it's because the war's critics have faith in the character of our troops and our nation that they are so deeply troubled by such grotesque deviations from the norm. It is the war's critics, not its blind supporters, who assume the best about our military and who harp on stories like Haditha because it is contrary to everything they believe about America.
Doesn't "assuming the best about our military" include granting them the same presumption of innocence until proven guilty that you would grant a civilian? If you truly "have faith in the military" and believe atrocities are “grotesque deviations from the norm”, would it not be more intellectually consistent to reserve your condemnation until all the facts are in? How is it that people who truly believe this is uncharacteristic behavior are so willing to find the accused Marines guilty before the trial?

That is a question for which Mr. Daou appears to have no answer, preferring instead to excoriate the Right for not wanting to string up the accused Marines on the nearest oak tree. But then his entire post is an exercise in doing precisely what he condemns on the right: rushing to judgment based on knee-jerk political partisanship, assigning malicious motives to his opponents, and a complete disrespect for (and lack of desire to understand) what the other side really thinks.

Not everyone on the Left is guilty of the same tactics, nor are all who speak for the Right. And such selective mis-quoting of what he views as “lemming-like … rightwingers who, in response to Haditha, have discarded any last shred of reason” betrays no honest desire to come to grips with the complex and deeply disturbing questions about this war, but only a vast contempt for anyone who dares to disagree with the “correct” view -- his own.

As I said, no wonder it’s so hard to discuss the war reasonably.

UPDATE: Peter was kind enough to respond in the comments section below. I am going to revisit my post in light of his comments, item 4 (I think...) in particular, after work but I can't do it now. At any rate, check out his objections to my post since he was good enough to clarify a few areas where he thinks I got it wrong.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:58 AM | Comments (7)

June 05, 2006

What Time Hath Wrought

Via Betsy Newmark, Judith Klinghoffer reflects that time and distance have a way of changing our perspective on world events:

The destruction of Osirak met with universal condemnation. The UN Security Council passed a unanimous resolutiion "strongly condemns the military attack by Israel in clear violation of the Charter of the United Nations and the norms of international conduct." The US suspended weapons deliveries to Israel.

Begin responded with admirable equanimity:

I know that in the days to come, all men and women of good will, wherever they live, will understand our problems. . . I believe that the nations are with us, and if, for various reasons which I do not want to go into, several governments condemn and may repeat it in the Security Council, well, my friends, what can we do? We are an ancient people. We are used to it. We survived. We shall survive.

Today, of course, there is similar unanimity within the international community only in the opposite direction. The world is grateful for the Israeli action. None other than the Saudi amabassador to the US, Price Turki, acknowledged that the attack was “probably fortunate." Even the BBC is running admiring interviews with the Israeli pilots who took part in the operation.

Or as TigerHawk notes trenchantly:

Osirak, like the raid at Entebbe in 1976, captured the imagination of Americans at a time when it seemed we couldn't do a damned thing right. Coming as it did just a year after our own disaster at Desert One, the Israelis revived our hope that it was possible to stand up to the world's dirtbags. Sure, there was no end of foot-stamping and outrage and tut-tutting, but -- in all honesty -- was there any non-French Westerner with a brain who wasn't relieved?

The interesting question is whether the Osirak raid was of any lasting strategic significance. Iraq, we later learned, was pursuing nuclear weapons along two tracks, and ultimately got closest via enrichment by gas centrifuges.

...was there any non-French Westerner with a brain...

The HVES is indeed grateful TH added that qualifier. To us, however, the most interesting aspect in all of this is the way the passage of time tends to damp out international outrage over what was essentially a unilateralist, pre-emptive military strike and in the fullness of time it begins to appear that, in the eyes of the international community, the end just may justify the means.

Time, it would seem, heals a great number of things. Perhaps one day we'll manage a similarly sanguine outlook on the unilaterist, pre-emptive use of military force in Iraq:

... will the U.S. stay the course? Many are betting against it. The Baathists and jihadists, their prior efforts to derail Iraqi democracy having come to naught, have now pinned their hopes on creating enough chaos and death to persuade Washington of the futility of its endeavors. In this, they have the tacit support not only of local Arab and Muslim despots rightly fearful of the democratic genie but of all those in the West whose own incessant theme has been the certainty of American failure. Among Bush-haters in the U.S., just as among anti-Americans around the world, predictions of civil war in Iraq, of spreading regional hostilities, and of a revived global terrorism are not about to cease any time soon.

But more sober observers should understand the real balance sheet in Iraq. Democracy is succeeding. Moreover, thanks to its success in Iraq, there are stirrings elsewhere in the region. Beyond the much-publicized electoral concessions wrung from authoritarian rulers in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, there is a new democratic discourse to be heard. Nationalism and pan-Arabism, yesterday’s hollow rallying cries, have given way to a “big idea” of a very different kind. Debate and dissent are in the air where there was none before—a development owing, in significant measure, to the U.S. campaign in Iraq and the brilliant if still checkered Iraqi response.

The stakes, in short, could not be higher. This is all the more reason to celebrate, to build on, and to consolidate what has already been accomplished. Instead of railing against the Bush administration, America’s elites would do better, and incidentally display greater self-respect, to direct their wrath where it properly belongs: at those violent and unrestrained enemies of democracy in Iraq who are, in truth, the enemies of democracy in America as well, and of everything America has ever stood for.

Is Iraq a quagmire, a disaster, a failure? Certainly not; none of the above. Of all the adjectives used by skeptics and critics to describe today’s Iraq, the only one that has a ring of truth is “messy.” Yes, the situation in Iraq today is messy. Births always are. Since when is that a reason to declare a baby unworthy of life?

Posted by Cassandra at 12:53 PM | Comments (0)

Canadian "Domestic Spying" Program Revealed

Creeping fascism alert. I must say I am shocked... shocked I tell you, at this untoward development:

The Canadian intelligence service monitored Internet communications to identify and track the homegrown jihadists rounded up in last night's raids, according to the Toronto Star. The investigation began two years ago when agents cracked passwords and gathered communications from the group:
The chain of events began two years ago, sparked by local teenagers roving through Internet sites, reading and espousing anti-Western sentiments and vowing to attack at home, in the name of oppressed Muslims here and abroad.

Their words were sometimes encrypted, the Internet sites where they communicated allegedly restricted by passwords, but Canadian spies back in 2004 were reading them. And as the youths' words turned into actions, they began watching them.

What is the world coming to, when a Progressyve nation like Canada resorts to listening in on the conversations of its own citizens? As we are so often reminded by our friends across the aisle, no less a person than Ben Franklin once said, "Those who would give up liberty to purchase safety, deserve neither."

Indeed.

Posted by Cassandra at 06:55 AM | Comments (0)

May 31, 2006

No Rush To Judgment On Haditha

The LA Times has joined the long line of purple faced pundits and politicos led by that patron saint of lip-shooters, Representative Murtha (D, Outrage PA).

Apparently, "justice" cannot come swiftly enough for the Times. In their rush to get to the punch line, the editorial staff can't even wait for the body of the essay to begin the arm-waving, choosing instead (lest we Americans, being notoriously hasty folk, lose patience 4 seconds into a one-page essay), to cram their main point into the subtitle : The military needs to speed up its investigation into why civilians were killed last fall in Haditha.

Now that's efficiency.

Unfortunately, it is not necessarily good legal practice.

Good investigations take time and anyone who has ever completed an investigation of this type, let alone this magnitude, knows that investigators must sort through a bewildering array of conflicting facts and witness accounts, some of which are misleading or turn out to be irrelevant, many of which turn out to be false, and all of which must be thoroughly cross-checked for reliability and materiality. The early reports from Iraq indicate that despite their anger over the incident at Haditha, local villagers have been impressed with the thoroughness and professionalism of the three ongoing inquiries:

Belated as the investigation was, the residents of Hay al-Sinnani say they were gratified by its thoroughness. That there have been three separate enquiries suggests the U.S. military “want to get at the truth,” says Walid Abdel Khaliq, the doctor of the Haditha morgue where the victims' bodies were taken.

They were especially impressed by the NCIS investigators. “They must have visited the houses 15 times,” says Khalid Raseef, a spokesman for the victims' kin and uncle of Emaan and Abdel Rahman Waleed, the children who lost almost their entire immediate family in the massacre. The investigators “asked detailed questions, examined each bullet hole and burn mark, and took all sorts of measurements. In the end, they brought all the survivors to the homes and did a mock-up of the Marines' movements. It was a very professional investigation.”

Raseef also commends the investigators for the sensitivity to the families' concerns, reassuring them that the enquiries would not be swept under the carpet. “One of them said to me, 'I have been sent here personally by President Bush to make sure that justice is done,” he says.

Even so, few in the neighborhood expect the Marines to be adequately punished for their role in the massacre. They point to the Abu Ghraib trials, which many Iraqis feel have resulted in only light sentences for the offending guards. Asked what punishment would be appropriate for those who killed the 24 Iraqis on Hay al-Sinnani, Raseef responds angrily, “There's only one appropriate punishment: a bullet in the head.”

Thabet, the human rights worker, feels the same way. “These are people who didn't just kill individuals, they destroyed entire families,” he says. “In Islam, the punishment for such a crime is death.”

Interestingly, as with Abu Ghuraib, Iraqis have seen (if nothing else) that America displays far more concern for their rights than their own government:

If the families are skeptical of U.S. military justice, they have even fewer expectations of their own government. Thabet, Raseef and Khaliq all say they have not received a single enquiry from the Iraqi government in Baghdad. “In their eyes, we are nobodies,” says Raseef, bitterly.

And though some commentators like Rep. Murtha have, despite not having bothered to read the official reports, publicly branded the accused Marines as cold-blooded killers who intentionally and deliberately slaughtered helpless civilians who were no threat to them, a slightly more nuanced view of both the Marines and the day's events is beginning to emerge. Via Beth at Blue Star Chronicles, the Guardian paints a grim picture of conditions in Haditha:

The executions are carried out at dawn on Haqlania bridge, the entrance to Haditha. A small crowd usually turns up to watch even though the killings are filmed and made available on DVD in the market the same afternoon.

One of last week's victims was a young man in a black tracksuit. Like the others he was left on his belly by the blue iron railings at the bridge's southern end. His severed head rested on his back, facing Baghdad. Children cheered when they heard that the next day's spectacle would be a double bill: two decapitations. A man named Watban and his brother had been found guilty of spying.

With so many alleged American agents dying here Haqlania bridge was renamed Agents' bridge. Then a local wag dubbed it Agents' fridge, evoking a mortuary, and that name has stuck.

A three-day visit by a reporter working for the Guardian last week established what neither the Iraqi government nor the US military has admitted: Haditha, a farming town of 90,000 people by the Euphrates river, is an insurgent citadel.

That Islamist guerrillas were active in the area was no secret but only now has the extent of their control been revealed. They are the sole authority, running the town's security, administration and communications.

A three-hour drive north from Baghdad, under the nose of an American base, it is a miniature Taliban-like state. Insurgents decide who lives and dies, which salaries get paid, what people wear, what they watch and listen to.

Not quite the picture we've been presented to date, is it? Yet this is the climate in which young Marines were expected to sort un-uniformed combatants from the civilian populace. And as I noted yesterday, contrary to Rep. Murtha's claims, radio traffic from that day may show that Kilo Company was under small arms fire.

But perhaps the most moving of all is this CNN reporter's bewilderment on realizing that she knew the accused Marines. You see, she had been embedded with them, right in Haditha, only a month ago:

I know the Marines that were operating in western al Anbar, from Husayba all the way to Haditha. I went on countless operations in 2005 up and down the Euphrates River Valley. I was pinned on rooftops with them in Ubeydi for hours taking incoming fire, and I've seen them not fire a shot back because they did not have positive identification on a target. (Watch a Marine's anguish over deaths -- 2:12)

I saw their horror when they thought that they finally had identified their target, fired a tank round that went through a wall and into a house filled with civilians. They then rushed to help the wounded -- remarkably no one was killed.

I was with them in Husayba as they went house to house in an area where insurgents would booby-trap doors, or lie in wait behind closed doors with an AK-47, basically on suicide missions, just waiting for the Marines to come through and open fire. There were civilians in the city as well, and the Marines were always keenly aware of that fact. How they didn't fire at shadows, not knowing what was waiting in each house, I don't know. But they didn't.

And I was with them in Haditha, a month before the alleged killings last November of some 24 Iraqi civilians.

This comment is especially interesting:

Haditha was full of IEDs. It seemed they were everywhere, like a minefield. In fact, the number of times that we were told that we were standing right on top of an IED minutes before it was found turned into a dark joke between my CNN team and me.

In fact, when we initially left to link up with the company that we were meant to be embedded with, the Humvee that I was in was hit by an IED. Another 2 inches and we would have been killed. Thankfully, no one was injured.

We missed the beginning of the operation, and ended up entering Haditha that evening. The city was empty of insurgents, or they had gone into hiding as they so often do, blending with the civilian population, waiting for U.S. and Iraqi forces to sweep through and then popping up again.

Now, all these months later, while watching the tapes, I found a walk and talk with one of the company commanders that was relieved of his duty as a result of the Haditha probe.

After being hit by an IED, his men were searching the area and found a massive weapons cache in a mosque.

What begins to emerge, contrary to the simplistic denunciations of politicians who can't be bothered to read reports, is a picture of a dangerous and unpredictable environment where it was hard to sort the innocent from the guilty. But a number of very disturbing questions remain unresolved, mostly because the official investigations are not out yet. As is so often the case, the incident has turned into a political football for those on both sides of the debate over the war on terror.

Those with an axe to grind rush to sensationalize the few facts that have leaked out in advance of the trials, poring over an admittedly incomplete and contradictory record for a few trophy facts they can use to proclaim the guilt or innocence of the parties involved. But that approach is the very antithesis of justice.

Those on the right should not condemn NCIS or the prosecutors for doing their duty. When allegations of this seriousness are made, they must be investigated with the utmost care and rigor. And if, in the end, it is shown that some or all of the accused Marines are guilty, even those who support the war and the military will have to consider whether justice does not demand, as the Iraqis involved have commented, a punishment commensurate with the crime.

Those on the left should not be over-hasty to condemn the Marines in advance of the trial. Though, as this NY Times piece details, there are some very disturbing aspects about the initial investigation, the media are also notoriously ignorant about military procedures for investigating incidents and determining accountability. And often the facts, like the oft-cited "evidence" of cover-up that the Marines paid compensation to the families of the victims, raise interesting questions the media baldly refuse to explore:

"I didn't say we had made a mistake," Major Hyatt said, describing what he had told the city council member who was representing the victims. "I said I'm being told I can make payments for these 15 because they were deemed not to be involved in combat."

Anyone with even a rudimentary grasp of math can subtract 15 from 24. If 15 of the victims were deemed "not to be involved in combat", then one might draw the inference that 9 of them were deemed to have been involved in combat. Or one might not be justified in drawing that inference at all, and this is the danger in poring over incomplete facts in advance of the trial.

The truth is, we do not know everything yet, and in an investigation of this importance, it is vital that we get a complete and accurate understanding of both the facts and the conditions on the ground that day. Rushing investigations to satisfy the prurient curiosity of the media or the public would be the worst possible course of action.

We owe more than that to everyone who died on that day. And to those who stand accused. We owe them the truth.

And sometimes, it takes time for the whole truth to come out.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:32 AM | Comments (34)

May 21, 2006

Context

FbL here.

Today HBO is airing a documentary called Baghdad ER. The film's website describes it thusly:

2-time Emmy® Award winner producer/director Jon Alpert and Matthew O'Neill capture the humanity, hardships and heroism of the US Military and medical personnel of the 86th Combat Support Hospital, the Army's premier medical facility in Iraq. Sometimes graphic in its depiction of combat-related wounds, BAGHDAD ER offers an unflinching and honest account of the realities of war.
Some in the military community have taken umbrage at the concept, expressing legitimate concerns that because no context is given for the suffering, the documentary will be a club lefties eagerly grasp for use in bashing the troops, the war, or President Bush. CDR Salamander expresses it this way:
There is a difference if you are the one going to war, knowing what happens to friends and comrades as a by-product of defending your nation, and seeing this up close. Smelling it. Feeling it. When you are there, you understand the context. But smearing gore in the living rooms of protected, coddled, context denied citizens is just stupid. Yes I said “context denied.” With “United 93,” everyone was saying “Is it too soon?” For the last half decade, the CIA and the media have leaked anything related to national security for a headline - the deaths of Americans and their allies be damned if it makes Bush look bad - but they would rather behead their own grandmother than show you the pictures, video, or even the pocking soundtrack of what it sounds like when a body impacts the pavement from 100 stories in the air. He11 no, they won’t do a documentary on that. They are fundamentalists on protecting the “privacy” and “feelings” of the “victims' families” as far as that goes. No, we can’t remind anyone why we are at war or the nature of why we are doing it. No. No. No. Let’s just smear everyone with gore and talk about what powerful art we have created.
Others offer a tempered response:
I'm pretty sure most Americans already know how they stand on the war and I don't think this documentary will actually change their minds. The anti-[war] [Bush] [Cheney] crowd will use ANYTHING it can to try to dissuade the American public from the Mission in Iraq. Those of us who can not be dissuaded will see the heroes in the doctors, nurses and the soldiers who choose to fight.

How they feel before viewing this is how they will feel after they view it -- with either side saying, "See! See! What'd I tell you?" The best we can do is to tell people "See -- Heroes all. What'd I tell ya??"

Cpt. Bourland falls somewhere in the middle, though he's decided it hits too close to home for him to want to see. As a veteran warfighter his thoughts naturally drift to the documentary's effects on the wounded and their families, and like others he has concerns about context. But for those who choose to see it, he has some suggested reading in preparation for viewing.

I second his suggestion, not just as prep for the viewing Baghdad ER, but as something we should always have in mind when we are confronted with war in all its horror and dreaded necessity. The essay's long, but worth every word.

It's something we need to remember...

The Rules of War

By Col. Brett Wyrick, USAF

BALAD, Iraq – The first rule of war is that young men and women die. The second rule of war is that surgeons cannot change the first rule.

We had already done around a dozen surgical cases in the morning and the early afternoon. The entire medical staff had a professional meeting to discuss the business of the hospital and the care and treatment of burns.

It is not boastful or arrogant when I tell you that some of the best surgeons in the world were present – I have been to many institutions, and I have been all around the world, and at this point in time, with this level of experience, the best in the world are assembled here at Balad.

LTC Dave S., the Trauma Czar, and a real American hero is present. He has saved more people out here than anyone can imagine. The cast of characters includes two Air Force Academy graduates, Col (s) Joe W. and Maj. Max L. When you watch ER on television, the guys on the show are trying to be like Max – cool, methodical and professional. Max never misses anything on a trauma case because he sees everything on a patient and notes it the same way the great NFL running backs see the entire playing field when they are carrying the ball.

Joe is an ENT surgeon who is tenacious, bright, and technically correct every single time – I mean every single time. The guy has a lower tolerance for variance than NASA. LTC (s) Chris C. was the Surgeon of the Day (SOD), and I was the back-up SOD. Everyone else was there and available – as I said the best in the world.

As the meeting was breaking up, the call came in.

An American soldier had been injured in an IED blast north of here, and he was in a bad way with head trauma. The specifics were fuzzy, but after three months here, what would need to be done was perfectly clear – the 332nd Expeditionary Medical Group readied for battle. All the surgeons started to gravitate toward the PLX which is the surgeons' ready room and centrally located midway to the ER, OR and radiology.

The lab personnel checked precious units of blood, and the pharmacy made ready all the medications and drugs we would need for the upcoming fight. An operating room was cleared, and surgical instruments were laid out, the anesthesia circuits were switched over, and the gasses were checked and rechecked. An anesthesiologist and two nurse anesthetists went over the plan of action as the OR supervisor made the personnel assignments.

In the ER, bags of IV fluids were carefully hung, battery packs were checked, and the ER nursing supervisor looked over the equipment to make sure all was in working order and the back-ups were ready just in case the primaries failed. The radiology techs moved forward in their lead gowns bringing their portable machines like artillery men of old wheeling their cannon into place. Respiratory therapy set the mechanical ventilator, and double-checked the oxygen. Gowns, gloves, boots, and masks were donned by those who would be directly in the battle.

All of the resources – medical, mechanical and technological that America can bring to the war – were in place and ready along with the best skill and talent from techs to surgeons. The two neurosurgeons gathered by themselves to plan.

LTC A. is a neurosurgeon who still wears his pilot wings proudly. He used to be a T-38 instructor pilot, and some of the guys he trained to fly are now flying F-16s right here at Balad. He is good with his hands and calm under pressure. The other neurosurgeon is Maj. W., a gem of a surgeon who could play the guitar professionally if he was not dedicated to saving lives. A long time ago, at a place on the other side of the world called Oklahoma, I operated on his little brother after a car accident and helped to save his life.

The two neurosurgeons, Chris, and I joined for the briefing. Although I was the ranking officer of the group, Chris was the SOD and would be the flight lead. If this was a fighter sweep, all three of those guys would be Weapons School Patch wearers.

The plan was for me and the ER folks to assess, treat and stabilize the patient as rapidly as possible to get the guy into the hands of the neurosurgeons. The intel was that this was an IED blast, and those rarely come with a single, isolated injury. It makes no sense to save the guy's brain if you have not saved the heart pump that brings the oxygenated blood to the brain. With this kind of trauma, you must be deliberate and methodical, and you must be deliberate and methodical in a pretty damn big hurry.

All was ready, and we did not have to wait very long. The approaching rotors of a Blackhawk were heard, and Chris and I moved forward to the ER followed by several sets of surgeons' eyes as we went. We have also learned not to clog up the ER with surgeons giving orders. One guy runs the code, and the rest follow his instructions or stay out the way until they are needed.

They wheeled the soldier into the ER on a NATO gurney shortly after the chopper touched down. One look at the PJs' faces told me that the situation was grim. Their young faces were drawn and tight, and they moved with a sense of directed urgency. They did not even need to speak because the look in their eyes was pleading with us – hurry. And hurry we did.

In a flurry of activity that would seem like chaos to the uninitiated, many things happened simultaneously. Max and I received the patient as Chris watched over the shoulder to pick out anything that might be missed. An initial survey indicated a young soldier with a wound to the head, and several other obvious lacerations on the extremities.

Max called out the injuries as they were found, and one of the techs wrote them down. The C-collar was checked, the chest was auscultated as the ET tube was switched to the ventilator. Chris took the history from the PJs because the patient was not conscious. All the wounds were examined and the dressings were removed except for the one on the head.

The patient was rolled on to his side while his neck was stabilized by my hands, and Max examined the backside from the toes to the head. When we rolled the patient back over, it was onto an X-ray plate that would allow us to take the chest X-Ray immediately. The first set of vitals revealed a low blood pressure; fluid would need to be given, and it appeared as though the peripheral vascular system was on the verge of collapse.

I called the move as experienced hands rolled him again for the final survey of the back and flanks and the X-Ray plate was removed and sent for development. As we positioned him for the next part of the trauma examination, I noted that the hands that were laid on this young man were Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, American Indian, Australian, Army, Air Force, Marine, Man, Woman, Young and Older: a true cross-section of our effort here in Iraq, but there was not much time to reflect.

The patient needed fluid resuscitation fast, and there were other things yet to be done. Chris watched the initial survey and the secondary survey with a situational awareness that comes from competence and experience. Chris is never flustered, never out of ideas, and his pulse is never above fifty.

With a steady, calm, and re-assuring voice, he directed the next steps to be taken. I moved down to the chest to start a central line, Max began an ultrasonic evaluation of the abdomen and pelvis. The X-rays and ultrasound examination were reviewed as I sewed the line in place, and it was clear to Chris that the young soldier's head was the only apparent life-threatening injury.

The two neurosurgeons came forward, and removed the gauze covering the soldier's wounded head, and everyone's heart sank as we saw the blossom of red blood spreading out from shredded white and grey matter of the brain. Experience told all the surgeons present that there was no way to survive the injury, and this was one battle the Medical Group was going to lose. But he was American, and it was not time to quit, yet.

Gentle pressure was applied over the wound, and the patient went directly to the CT scanner as drugs and fluids were pumped into the line to keep his heart and lungs functioning in a fading hope to restore the brain. The time elapsed from his arrival in the ER to the time he was in the CT scanner was five minutes.

The CT scan confirmed what we had feared. The wounds to the brain were horrific and mortal, and there was no way on earth to replace the volume of tissue that had been blasted away by the explosion. The neurosurgeons looked at the scan, they looked at the scan a second time, and then they re-examined the patient to confirm once again.

The OR crew waited anxiously outside the doors of radiology in the hope they would be utilized, but Chris, LTCs A and S., and Maj W. all agreed. There was no brain activity whatsoever. The chaplain came to pray, and reluctantly, the vent was turned from full mechanical ventilation to flow by. He had no hint of respiratory activity, his heart that had beat so strongly early in the day ceased to beat forever, and he was pronounced dead.

The pumps were turned off; the machines were stopped, and the IVs were discontinued. Respectful quiet remained, and it was time to get ready for the next round of casualties. The techs and nurses gently moved the body over to the back of the ER to await mortuary services. And everyone agreed there was nothing more we could have done.

When it was quiet, there was time to really look at the young soldier and see him as he was. Young, probably in his late teens, with not an ounce of fat anywhere. His muscles were powerful and well defined, and in death, his face was pleasant and calm.

I am always surprised that anyone still has tears to shed here at Balad, but thank God they still do. The nurses and techs continued to care for him and do what they could. Not all the tubes and catheters can be removed because there is always a forensic investigation to be done at Dover AFB, but the nurses took out the lines they could. Fresh bandages were placed over the wounds, and the blood clots were washed from his hair as his wound was covered once more. His hands and feet were washed with care. A broken toenail was trimmed, and he was silently placed in the body bag when mortuary services arrived as gently as if they were tucking him into bed.

Later that night was Patriot Detail – our last goodbye for an American hero. All the volunteers gathered at Base Ops after midnight under a three-quarter moon that was partially hidden by high, thin clouds. There was only silence as the chief master sergeant gave the Detail its instructions. Soldiers, Airmen, and Marines, colonels, privates and sergeants, pilots, gunners, mechanics, surgeons and clerks all marched out side-by-side to the back of the waiting transport, and presently, the flag-draped coffin was carried through the cordon as military salutes were rendered.

The Detail marched back from the flight line, and slowly the doors of the big transport were secured. The chaplain offered prayers for anyone who wanted to participate, and then the group broke up as the people started to move away into the darkness. The big engines on the transport fired up, and the ground rumbled for miles as they took the runway. His duty was done – he had given the last full measure, and he was on his way home.

The first rule of war is that young men and women die. The second rule of war is that surgeons cannot change the first rule. I think the third rule of war should be that those who have given their all for our freedom are never forgotten, and they are always honored.

I wish there was not a war, and I wish our young people did not have to fight and die. But I cannot wish away evil men like Bin Laden and al-Zarqawi. These men are not wayward children who have gone astray; they are not great men who are simply misunderstood.

These are cold-blooded killers and they will kill you, me, and everyone we love and hold dear if we do not kill them first. You cannot reason with these people, you cannot negotiate with these people, and this war will not be over until they are dead. That is the ugly, awful, and brutal truth.

I wish the situation was different, but it is not. Americans have two choices. They can run from the threat, deny it exists, candy-coat it, debate it, and hope it goes away. And then, Americans will be fair game around the world and slaughtered by the thousands for the sheep they have become.

Our second choice is to crush these evil men where they live and for us to have the political will and courage to finish what we came over here to do. The last thing we need here in Iraq is an exit strategy or some damn timetable for withdrawal. Thank God there was no timetable for withdrawal after the Battle of the Bulge or Iwo Jima. Thank God there was no exit strategy at Valley Forge. Freedom is not easy, and it comes with a terrible price – I saw the bill here yesterday.

The third rule of war should be that we never forget the sacrifices made by our young men and women, and we always honor them. We honor them by finishing what they came to accomplish. We remember them by never quitting and having the backbone and the guts to never bend to the yoke of oppression.

We honor them and remember them by having the courage to live free.

Col. Brett Wyrick is commander of the 154th Medical Group, Hawaii Air National Guard, and is serving as a surgeon in Balad with the 332nd Expeditionary Medical Group. This column is part of a series of email reports from Iraq that Wyrick has been sending to his father, a Vietnam-era fighter pilot, who in turn distributes them to a circle of friends and acquaintances.

It's all about context...

Posted by at 12:32 AM | Comments (1)

May 15, 2006

The Moral Fog of War

What an absurd war we are fighting. Often, after perusing the WaPo or the NY Times in the predawn hours, it all becomes just too surreal.

At such times, I reluctantly trade my morning bowl of Wheaties for a flaky croissant and a smoldering Gauloise with a soupcon of anomie and stroll the mean streets of Fredneck, savoring my own despair and pondering the essential meaninglessness of existence in a universe where exit polls are ignored in clear defiance of the Constitution and instead of Kedwards (who would have given us endless Plans for bringing The Strong Strength Of Strongness Back to America) we get four more years of the Odious Twig.

Now it turns out the NSA is collecting all our phone numbers in a humongous Uber-Database. Can you imagine?

This makes absolutely no sense to anyone of even minimal intelligence. Americans don't mind spying on al Qaeda outside CONUS, mind you. It doesn't bother us a bit if the NSA listens in on phone calls terrorists make while plotting to blow us all to kingdom come.

But as soon as one of those rag heads connects to an American phone number, law enforcement should waive off IMMEDIATELY (if not sooner). The NSA should be able to screen out all calls ending up inside the US. Furthermore, spy agencies should be able to draw a firm line between internal and external calls without looking at the totality of calls made. Because if they observe calls coming into the US - even to exclude them - they are "spying" on US citizens! There really ought to be some way to keep an eye on those nasty terrorists without watching American citizens who might be talking to them.

That is just plain un-American. Just ask Leaky Leahy.

When you come right down to it, the answer is obvious. The NSA should profile non-US Muslims: this way, they ensure no US citizens are spied upon. Even the ACLU cannot object to this, seeing as they've never demanded that American Constutitutional protections be applied to non-US citizens.

And another thing that's been bothering me: why shouldn't every American have the right to reveal classified information? It's absolutely criminal the way President Bush selectively "declassified" old intelligence data about a deposed regime used to justify the decision to go to war. So what if this was information the Left had been demanding for months? What "right" did he have to release it during wartime, just because the regime it pertained to had already been removed from power and the decisions the information was used for had already been made? How completely irresponsible of him! Lives could have been lost! Our national security could have been compromised!

Contrast the brave decision of James Risen and the New York Times to bypass the Congressional oversight committee formed especially for reporting suspected abuses of intelligence and publish classified information on the front page of the Times! How laudable! I mean, sure, the press has no authority to handle (much less declassify) intelligence. And admittedly his actions violate the Espionage Act of 1917, not to mention the fact the press is not accountable to the American people, nor were they elected by us.

But shouldn't any American, at any time, who decides they have something "important" to say, be able to bypass the official chain and just publish our national secrets on the front page of the NY Times? Why the heck not? Shouldn't we "trust" their judgment, though we didn't elect them and they could have accomplished the same thing by turning over the information to the oversight committee instead of breaking the law? Of course we should - after all, they say so!

Graves_Najaf.jpg It is, after all, the press who told us all during the 1990's that America was morally culpable for ignoring the horrors inflicted by Saddam and the Taliban. Our failure to stop the killing was inexcusable, up to the point where we decided to act. And then our action became inexcusable: an outrage.

In retrospect, I often wonder if there is anything the Bush administration could have done right. Before 9/11, he was accused of being too isolationist, not being willing enough to exert American power on the world stage. Then we were attacked, and the media and a host of largely masturbatory commissions feverishly asked why we had failed to "connect dots" they are adamantly opposed to preventing us from collecting to this day. The answer is simple: we lack the will to impose the measures that would truly keep us safe.

Almost five years after 9/11, America continues to scurry in disarry like a nest of cockroaches disturbed at midnight. We can't tolerate profiling, so we insist on silly security measures that target everyone equally and ignore rational risk factors that could be used to narrow the field of suspects under scrutiny. Then the media and politicians object that "innocent" people are being subjected to needless scrutiny!

Well of course they are. They are being subjected to scrutiny to prove we don't target certain racial, religious, and ethnic groups. You can't have it both ways.

We fight a "civilized" war with one hand tied behind our backs, in which our own Congress constantly calls for withdrawal dates and demands assurances we won't build permanent bases or field an "occupation" force, only to complain we don't have 'enough boots on the ground'. No wonder an insurgency developed.

War is an ugly business.

If you mean to win it (and win it decisively) things are going to get broken and innocent people are going to be killed. This is unavoidable, especially when the enemy doesn't wear identifiable uniforms and hides among the civilian populace. If you wish to minimize innocent casualities, the civilian leadership must have patience and realize that things are going to take far longer to accomplish than if we just went in and busted heads. But our own Congress don't possess the fortitude to fight such a conflict. They want a deniable war they can boast about to their constituents. One in which the decisions are made by other people; in which no mistakes are ever made, no people are ever killed, our allies have complete freedom of action yet paradoxically America remains in the drivers' seat.

Wake me up when that war is discovered.

Nauseated by my own freedom of action, I wander over to the New Republic to recover my sense of outrage:

Never again? What nonsense. Again and again is more like it. In Darfur, we are witnessing a genocide again, and again we are witnessing ourselves witnessing it and doing nothing to stop it. Even people who wish to know about the problem do not wish to know about the solution. They prefer the raising of consciousnesses to the raising of troops. Just as Rwanda made a bleak mockery of the lessons of Bosnia, Darfur is making a bleak mockery of the lessons of Rwanda. Some lessons, it seems, are gladly and regularly unlearned. Except, of course, by the perpetrators of this evil, who learn the only really enduring lessons about genocide in our time: that the Western response to it is late in coming, or is not coming at all.

The notion of force as a first resort defies the foundations of diplomacy and also of common sense: A willingness to use hard power abroad must not become a willingness to use it wildly. But if you are not willing to use force against genocide immediately, then you do not understand what genocide is. Genocide is not a crisis that escalates into evil. It is evil from its inception. It may change in degree if it is allowed to proceed, but it does not change in kind. It begins with the worst. Nor is its gravity to be measured quantitatively: The intention to destroy an entire group is present in the destruction of even a small number of people from that group. It makes no sense, therefore, to speak of ending genocide later. If you end it later, you will not have ended it. If Hitler had been stopped after the murder of three million Jews, would he be said to have failed? Four hundred thousand Darfuris have already been murdered by the Janjaweed, the Arab Einsatzgruppen. If we were to prevent the murder of the 400,001st, will we be said to have succeeded?

Four hundred thousand Darfurians. By some estimates, that is the rough number of Iraqis in Saddam's mass graves, yet we are told there was no humanitarian justification for going into Iraq.

It is inexcusable, TNR argues, that the West should sit back and do nothing in Darfur. Why do we not intervene? Where are the institutions formed to prevent such slaughters? Where were the institutions formed to prevent the slaughter in Iraq?

Then there is the other alibi for Western inaction, the distinguished one: the belief that salvation will come from blue helmets. After the slaughters of the '90s, all of which numbered the fecklessness--and even the cynicism--of the United Nations among their causes, it defies belief that people of goodwill would turn to the United Nations for effective action. The United Nations is not even prepared to call the atrocities in Darfur a genocide. Kofi Annan says all sorts of lofty things, but everybody knows that he is only the humble servant of a notoriously recalcitrant body.

The answer, as it has always been, is for America to get involved. To take charge, unilaterally if need be. To use force. And even this admittedly liberal organ can see it. But if America were to get involved, if we were to intervene in Darfur tomorrow, how long would it be before the moral fog of war would close in, obscuring our actions and dogging our footsteps? How long before the quagmire of regret and recrimination and obfuscation and defeatism would begin dragging at our heels?

Shrugging my shoulders, I crush my cigarette and walk into the night.

Posted by Cassandra at 05:59 AM | Comments (30)

May 12, 2006

The Mind Boggles

More evidence that we're headed down the road to a dictatorship:

A majority of Americans initially support a controversial National Security Agency program to collect information on telephone calls made in the United States in an effort to identify and investigate potential terrorist threats, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The new survey found that 63 percent of Americans said they found the NSA program to be an acceptable way to investigate terrorism, including 44 percent who strongly endorsed the effort. Another 35 percent said the program was unacceptable, which included 24 percent who strongly objected to it.

A slightly larger majority--66 percent--said they would not be bothered if NSA collected records of personal calls they had made, the poll found.

Underlying those views is the belief that the need to investigate terrorism outweighs privacy concerns. According to the poll, 65 percent of those interviewed said it was more important to investigate potential terrorist threats "even if it intrudes on privacy." Three in 10--31 percent--said it was more important for the federal government not to intrude on personal privacy, even if that limits its ability to investigate possible terrorist threats.

Half--51 percent--approved of the way President Bush was handling privacy matters

The Post hastens to caution us, however, that this perplexing support may evaporate at any moment:

Those views that could change or deepen as more details about the effort become known over the next few days.

As though we haven't had enough disclosures about the classified program over the past few months.

As though the USA Today piece contained anything not covered in far more detail by the NY Times in December or the National Journal in March. Could this be why Americans continue to support the NSA program?

Analysis of telephone traffic patterns helps analysts and investigators spot relationships among people that aren't always obvious. For instance, imagine that a man in Portland, Ore., receives a call from someone at a pay phone in Brooklyn, N.Y., every Tuesday at 9 a.m. Also every Tuesday, but minutes earlier, the pay phone caller rings up a man in Miami.

An investigator might look at that pattern and suspect that the men in Portland and Miami are communicating through the Brooklyn caller, who's acting as a kind of courier, to mask their relationship. Patterns like this have led criminal investigators into the inner workings of drug cartels and have proved vital in breaking these cartels up.

But we wouldn't want to use that kind of effective technique against mere terrorists.

Terrorists employ similar masking techniques. They use go-betweens to circuitously route calls, and they change cell phones often to avoid detection. Transactional data, however, capture those behaviors. If NSA analysts -- or their computers -- can find these patterns or signatures, then they might find the terrorists, or at least know which ones they should monitor.

Just after 9/11, according to knowledgeable sources, the NSA began intercepting the communications of specific foreign persons and groups named on a list. The sources didn't specify whether persons inside the United States were monitored as part of that list. But a former government official who is knowledgeable about NSA activities and the warrantless surveillance program said that this original list of people and groups, or others like it, could have formed the base of the NSA's surveillance of transactional data, the parts of a communication that aren't considered content.

If the agency started with a list of phone numbers, it could find all the numbers dialed from those phones. The NSA could then learn what numbers were called from that second list of numbers, and what calls that list received, and so on, "pushing out" the lists until the agency had identified a vast network of callers and their transactional data, the former official said.

The agency might eavesdrop on only a few conversations or e-mails. But starting with even an initial target list of, say, 10 phone numbers quickly yields a web of hundreds of thousands of communications, because the volume increases exponentially with every new layer of callers.

To find meaningful patterns in transactional data, analysts need a lot of it. They must set baselines about what constitutes "normal" behavior versus "suspicious" activity. Administration officials have said that the NSA doesn't intercept the contents of a communication unless officials have a "reasonable" basis to conclude that at least one party is linked to a terrorist organization.

To make any reasonable determination like that, the agency needs hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of call records, preferably as soon as they are created, said a senior person in the defense industry who is familiar with the NSA program and is an expert in the analytical tools used to find patterns and connections. Asked if this means that the NSA program is much broader and less targeted than administration officials have described, the expert replied, "I think that's correct."

In theory, finding reasonable connections in data is a straightforward and largely automated process. Analysts use computer programs based on algorithms -- mathematical procedures for solving a particular problem -- much the same way that meteorologists use data models to forecast the weather. Counter-terrorism algorithms look for the transactional indicators that match what analysts recognize as signs of a plot.

Of course, those algorithms must be sophisticated enough to spot many not-so-obvious patterns in a mass of data that are mostly uninteresting, and they work best when the data come from many sources. Algorithms have proven useful for detecting frequent criminal activity, such as credit card fraud.

"Historical data clearly indicate that if a credit card turns up in two cities on two continents on the same day, that's a useful pattern," says Jeff Jonas, a computer scientist who invented a technology to connect known scam artists who are on casinos' watch lists with new potential grifters, and is now the chief scientist of IBM Entity Analytics.

"The challenge of predicting terrorism is that unlike fraud, we don't have the same volume of historical data to learn from," Jonas said. "Compounding this is the fact that terrorists are constantly changing their methods and do their best to avoid leaving any digital footprints in the first place."

The obvious solution would be to write an algorithm that is flexible and fast enough to weigh millions of pieces of evidence, including exculpatory ones, against each other.

Any surveillance of a criminal suspect by necessity means that anyone who comes into contact with that suspect will also be surveilled to some extent.

But critics of the NSA "domestic spying program" contend that only the terrorists should be watched. As soon as they make contact with anyone inside the continental US (precisely the type of communication which would alert law enforcement to terrorists in our midst), the government should call off the dogs and pretend nothing has happened.

And to think our government actually held hearings to find out why 9/11 happened and how we could prevent anything like that from happening again.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:38 AM | Comments (7)

May 08, 2006

Atwar Bajat Video A Hoax

Via The Armorer, the Atwar Bajat video was a hoax.

I had referenced the story earlier today

Posted by Cassandra at 04:17 PM | Comments (2)

May 02, 2006

Can America Still Win Wars?

When was the last time the United States actually won a war? What did we last fight another nation to a standstill, obtain its surrender, and disarm it so we would not have to face it on the field of battle again?

The Gulf War? Not even close. Though the immediate goals of liberating Kuwait and preventing the invasion of neighboring Saudi Arabia were met, that conflict ended in a cease-fire that was violated almost immediately. Saddam was left in power, with his army intact and enough armed helicopters (ostensibly left him to facilitate "civilian transport") to crush a Shiite rebellion in southern Iraq and a Kurdish uprising in the north. The next twelve years were spent trying to contain a smaller, weaker enemy who, in military terms, had been defeated on the battlefield yet was never brought to heel. In some quarters of the Arab world, this very likely smelt like victory.

Viet Nam? By all accounts the U.S. was winning that war on the battlefield too, yet we withdrew our forces in 1973 and funding for the South Vietnamese in 1975 after a failure of political will allowed a feckless Congress to renege on promises made to our former ally. Here, too, a message was sent to a waiting world. Though the United States is arguably the greatest superpower, a clever and militarily inferior opponent need only outlast our ephemeral national will to defeat us.

The Korean War? Technically it never ended at all. Kim Jong-Il's North Korea is still considered one of the worst threats to world peace.

That leaves World War II which also, not coincidentally, resulted in the founding of the United Nations, whose charter called for it to:

...act to prevent conflicts between nations and make future wars impossible, by fostering an ideal of collective security.

If the mission of the UN was to prevent future wars, by that standard it has failed miserably. But America's membership in the UN had another, perhaps unintended side effect. Though questioning the morality of war as a tool of foreign policy did not prevent future wars, it may well have made them impossible to win.

Oddly, just as I finished the preceding paragraphs, spd sent me an article which eerily echoed my thoughts. Shelby Steele* attributes our lack of political will to the death of moral authority, rooted in white guilt:

There is something rather odd in the way America has come to fight its wars since World War II.

For one thing, it is now unimaginable that we would use anything approaching the full measure of our military power (the nuclear option aside) in the wars we fight. And this seems only reasonable given the relative weakness of our Third World enemies in Vietnam and in the Middle East. But the fact is that we lost in Vietnam, and today, despite our vast power, we are only slogging along--if admirably--in Iraq against a hit-and-run insurgency that cannot stop us even as we seem unable to stop it. Yet no one--including, very likely, the insurgents themselves--believes that America lacks the raw power to defeat this insurgency if it wants to. So clearly it is America that determines the scale of this war. It is America, in fact, that fights so as to make a little room for an insurgency.

Parsing his arguments, one can trace the origin of "failures" cited by critics of the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions: the decision not to blanket Iraq with troops after the fall of Baghdad, our continued restraint in the face of an increasingly lethal insurgency, our reluctance to dictate terms to the Iraqis as they form their new government. In today's Washington Post we see the fruit of this policy of limited and civilized warfare. Recent graduates of the reinvented, more inclusive Iraqi Army (the first batch of newly-recruited Sunnis) refuse to fight outside their provinces and home towns. Citing fear of Shiite death squads, the soldiers say they'll return home unless allowed to serve in minority Sunni-dominated areas. No army in the world can be effective if its soldiers are allowed to invoke racial, ethnic, or sectarian differences as an excuse to evade the terms of their enlistment; yet, as with our own immigration debacle, the US is powerless to enforce even a simple enlistment contract without provoking the outrage of the "international community":

America and the broader West are now going through a rather tender era, a time when Western societies have very little defense against the moral accusations that come from their own left wings and from those vast stretches of nonwhite humanity that were once so disregarded.

Europeans are utterly confounded by the swelling Muslim populations in their midst. America has run from its own mounting immigration problem for decades, and even today, after finally taking up the issue, our government seems entirely flummoxed. White guilt is a vacuum of moral authority visited on the present by the shames of the past. In the abstract it seems a slight thing, almost irrelevant, an unconvincing proposition. Yet a society as enormously powerful as America lacks the authority to ask its most brilliant, wealthy and superbly educated minority students to compete freely for college admission with poor whites who lack all these things. Just can't do it.

Whether the problem is race relations, education, immigration or war, white guilt imposes so much minimalism and restraint that our worst problems tend to linger and deepen. Our leaders work within a double bind. If they do what is truly necessary to solve a problem--win a war, fix immigration--they lose legitimacy.

And this, really, is at heart with what is wrong with our national (as well as our international) policy, but I would argue that the problem goes deeper than race guilt. Somewhere along the line, Western nations have substituted the unimpeachable moral authority of the underdog for the legitimacy conferred by just and defensible ideals.

We cannot replace totalitarianism and the tyranny of a minority Sunni populace over a majority Shiite one without provoking cries of, "But what about the Sunnis?" Oddly, when a 20% Sunni populace controlled the fate of 80% of non-Sunni Iraqis, the international community remained blithely unconcerned with the representation of those "underdogs" - after all, they were numerically in the majority. The UN, which in the 1940's created a safe harbor for European Jews, has now turned on its own creation and reliably sides with terrorists who want to wipe Israel (and the Jews) off the map. The mantle of victimhood conferred on European Jewry by Hitler's persecution was swept away by the annoying tendency of Israeli Jews to bloom where they were planted. How can one feel sorry for a people so successful and prosperous when the Palestinians have not managed a similar outcome? Surely this is evidence that Israel is somehow to blame.

Taking sides in such conflicts is so much simpler when the underdog card trumps ideology. There is no "wrong" or "right" - only rich, powerful bully nations and the impoverished underdogs they attempt to oppress. The vaunted international community, ostensibly enamored of peaceful, multilateral solutions, evinces no widespread condemnation of Palestinian suicide bombers who murder innocent civilians, nor of rogue nations like Iran who openly defy UN authority and sneer at attempts to force compliance with the will of the global community. Today's Post editorial ignores the twin bugaboos of UN peacekeeping attempts: namely that "legally binding" resolutions are meaningless absent the will to enforce compliance, and the undeniable fact that setting perfect consensus as a prerequisite to enforcement virtually guarantees that even the rare UN agreement will never be enforced.

How can America win wars if, by so doing, we create underdogs that immediately draw the sympathies of both the international community and internal dissidents? On these terms, winning the war means losing our moral authority. No matter how just the initial casus belli, when measured by the yardstick of victimhood we will always lose: identity trumps ideology every time. Mark Steyn states the problem well:

Over in Sweden, they've been investigating the Grand Mosque of Stockholm. Apparently, it's the one-stop shop for all your jihad needs: you can buy audio cassettes at the mosque encouraging you to become a martyr and sally forth to kill "the brothers of pigs and apes" -- i.e. Jews. So somebody filed a racial-incitement complaint and the coppers started looking into it, and then Sweden's chancellor of justice, Goran Lambertz, stepped in. And Mr. Lambertz decided to close down the investigation on the grounds that, even though the porcine-sibling stuff is "highly degrading," this kind of chit-chat "should be judged differently -- and therefore be regarded as permissible -- because they were used by one side in an ongoing and far-reaching conflict where calls to arms and insults are part of the everyday climate in the rhetoric that surrounds this conflict."

In other words, if you threaten to kill people often enough, it will be seen as part of your vibrant cultural tradition -- and, by definition, we're all cool with that. Celebrate diversity, etc. Our tolerant multicultural society is so tolerant and multicultural we'll tolerate your intolerant uniculturalism. Your antipathy to diversity is just another form of diversity for us to celebrate.

By sacrificing our ideals on the altar of racial and ethnic sensitivity, Western nations lose even the age-old right to defend themselves against single-minded enemies bent on their destruction. The rule of law - equally applied to all comers regardless of race or creed - ceases to matter. No law can be enforced; indeed the law itself becomes a means to suppress ideology:

Diversity-wise, Europe is a very curious place -- and I mean that even by Canadian standards. In her latest book, The Force of Reason, the fearless Oriana Fallaci, Italy's most-read and most-sued journalist, recounts some of her recent legal difficulties with the Continental diversity coercers. The Federal Office of Justice in Berne asked the Italian government to extradite her over her last book, The Rage and The Pride, so she could be charged under Article 261b of the Swiss Criminal Code. As she points out, Article 261b was promulgated in order to permit Muslims "to win any ideological or private lawsuit by invoking religious racism and racial discrimination. 'He-didn't-chase-me-because-I'm-a-thief-but-because-I'm-a-Muslim.' " She's also been sued in France, where suits against writers are routine now. She has had cases brought against her in her native Italy and, because of the European Arrest Warrant, which includes charges of "xenophobia" as grounds for extradition from one EU nation to another, most of the Continent is now unsafe for her to set foot in.

That "underdog-ism" and the comforting legitimacy of consensus rather than race lie at the heart of the West's inability to address the most pressing global problems is tragically illustrated by the current situation in Darfur:

The UN is cutting in half its daily rations in Sudan's Darfur region because of a severe funding shortfall. From May the ration will be half the minimum amount required each day. The cut comes as the UN said Darfur's malnutrition rates are rising again.

Nearly 3m people depend on food aid after being driven off their land.

But little has come from the EU and nothing at all from any of Sudan's partners in the Arab League, except Libya, the World Food Programme says.

More than 6.1m people across Sudan require food aid - more than any other country in the world.

The bill to feed them all is $746m.

The United States has provided $188m, but little has been received from elsewhere.

Most victims of the slaughter in Darfur are black Muslims, yet their skin color does not suffice to stir the collective consciences of recalcitrant UN nations. Instead, the Arab League continues to argue that forced intervention is illegitimate against a smaller, weaker African nation, regardless of the undeniable slaughter taking place. The power of being able to define the underdog once again defeats all humanitarian and ideological concerns, and add insult to injury, the largest contributor to Darfur lacks the "moral authority" to intervene.

In the windup to the invasion of Iraq, George Bush attempted to lay out a moral rationale for engaging in that conflict. It was, despite the revisionist attempts of the media and his critics, notably a three-pronged case: the right of the United States to ensure its security by removing state sponsors of terrorism (and that Iraq was a well-known sponsor of terrorists is undisputed by 9/11 Commission Report, the Congressional resolution to use force, and the Iraq Liberation Act signed into law by Bill Clinton in 1998), Hussein's documented atrocities against hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis, and Iraq's continuing violations of both the original cease fire agreement and multiple resolutions which succeeded it. Neither this case, nor the agreement of over 30 other nations to participate, prevented accusations of going to war on false pretenses and American imperialism.

Now the chief failures cited by his critics are not that Bush went to war, but that he went to war ineptly: essentially that he yielded to the calls of the international community not to invade with overwhelming force and crush the opposition once and for all, not to occupy Iraq and Afghanistan with massive peacekeeping forces, and not to impose American-style democracy on the Iraqi people. Though we won the short war, we stand accused of losing the long war. In essence, Bush's crime was not prosecuting the war vigorously enough to suit opponents who, at the time, were calling for him to do exactly what he in fact did: fight a limited war.

But can we truly win a limited war? History shows that victory in most conflicts is more a function of sheer will than anything else, and in an open society political will is difficult to summon and almost impossible to sustain. We are fighting this war with both hands tied behind our backs. The enemy is free to spread propaganda, yet attempts to fight fire with fire are fiercely denounced by our own press corps, even when the information to be disseminated is demostrably accurate.

Our national secrets are bruited about on the front pages of major newspapers and any attempt to enforce espionage laws dating back to 1917 is branded as a partisan witch hunt. Our own politicians call for us to announce our intentions to the enemy, giving a date certain for withdrawal (as though this will not cause them to simply outwait us, handing to them on a platter what they could not win on the battlefield). That we have not learned the lessons of Viet Nam is nowhere more apparent than in our own willingness to concede victory rather than defend a principle or honor our promises.

The United Nations altered the balance of global power by hamstringing America and counterbalancing her military might with the weight of international consensus. Internal opponents of war need only cite the disapproval of the international community, which is notably unwilling to enforce even those resolutions on which it agrees unanimously, to imbue our actions with the language of universal opprobrium. Thus we are defeated both from without and from within. No exertion of military force can succeed on principle, because using the means necessary to win will bring about the condemnation of the international community, while failure to employ those very means ensures calls for withdrawal on the basis of incompetent prosecution.

War has often been termed 'politics by other means', but in such a climate political will is the one thing an open society arguably cannot sustain indefinitely. So long as the underdog mentality reigns supreme and legitimacy is conferred only by perfect consensus, the American military may wish to reconsider its willingness to fight and die in defense of "American ideals". If we cannot learn to withstand the disapproval of our critics, if we no longer find our own ideals worth defending or dying for, it may well be that the most irresponsible of our critics have been proven right. To rephrase John Foregainst Kerry, "How do you ask a man to be the last to die for something we no longer believe in?"

It's a good question. We'd better come up with a convincing answer.

*Thanks to Barb for the correction :) Not paying attention again.

Posted by Cassandra at 06:19 AM | Comments (20)

April 26, 2006

Leak, Shmeak

Apparently the WaPo/NYT Good leak/Bad leak brouhaha has unhinged the Post's editorial staff. Are we the only ones disturbed to see the press stoop to using judgmental terms like "Good" and "Bad"? Good thing we know Right and Wrong are just perjorative labels applied by narrow-minded bigots to perfectly valid alternative lifestyle choices. Otherwise we might get the impression the Post is trying to impose some kind of repressive Judeo-Christian morality on us:

Last week a CIA officer on the verge of retirement, Mary O. McCarthy, was fired for speaking to Ms. Priest and other journalists, though she says she did not provide classified information about the secret prisons. Anyone who talked from inside the CIA violated the agency's rules, if not the law. But they also upheld the public interest.
Maybe disclosure of the prisons damaged national security -- the CIA has offered no evidence of that -- but it's hard to imagine what could be more damaging than the existence of the system itself. CIA Director Porter J. Goss appears to have dismissed Ms. McCarthy to send a message to others who leaked to the press. That's a questionable use of his authority.

Interesting argument. So the head of the CIA is abusing his authority by firing employees who admit violating the terms of their employment contract?

Furthermore, Goss must now compound the damage by disclosing more sensitive information to justify enforcing the agency's own rules? Perhaps the Post can tell us what secrets the CIA is entitled to keep... well, secret? If only Goss had stopped and asked the Post whether this was a good leak or a baaaaad leak.

We don't question the need for intelligence agencies to gather or keep secrets, or to penalize employees who fail to do so. Leaks that compromise national security, such as the deliberate delivery of information to foreign governments, must be aggressively prosecuted.

In the Post's considered opinion, publishing classified information in a major newspaper does not constitute "delivery of information to foreign governments". Everyone knows those people can't read.

But the history of the past several decades shows that leaks of classified information to the U.S. media have generally benefited the country -- whether it was the disclosure of the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam era or the more recent revelations of secret prisons and domestic spying during the war on terrorism.

One notes that it is the media who get to decide which leaks "benefit the country". How convenient for them. Of course, we didn't vote for the media, did we? Whence comes this authority to decide which leaks do or do not "benefit the country"?

Those who leak to the press often do so for patriotic reasons, not because they wish to damage national security.

In other words, Ms. McCarthy's failure to use normal channels for reporting what she saw as abuses is excusable because she thought she had a good reason. It must be very difficult, working in the Inspector General's office at the CIA, to figure out how to report a problem up the chain. On balance, we can easily see that she felt she had no choice but to release classified information to people who would publish it in a newspaper.

Which bring us to Mr. Goss. He has taken no disciplinary action against CIA personnel identified by his inspector general as having played a part in the failure to prevent the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Is "playing a part in the failure to prevent a terrorist attack" an infraction of CIA rules?

He has taken no action against CIA interrogators known to have participated in the torture and killing of foreign detainees, or against those who knowingly violated the Geneva Conventions in Iraq.

Does the Post offer proof of this, or are they once again assuming facts not in evidence?

Now he would have the country believe that one of the CIA's biggest problems -- worthy of an unprecedented internal investigation he personally oversaw -- is unauthorized leaks to the press. His setting of priorities seems unlikely to improve the CIA's success rate in judging foreign programs of weapons of mass destruction or preventing the next terrorist attack.

How magnanimous: the Post doesn't question the "need for intelligence agencies to gather or keep secrets, or to penalize employees who fail to do so," ...so long as they don't investigate leaks when they do occur or take disciplinary action against leakers. Instead, Goss should focus on punishing intelligence failures...even when other major intelligence agencies came to the same conclusions based on the information available.

Gee. That ought to encourage analysts to be forthcoming with their assessments. "Hey, make your best guess, but don't let events prove you wrong or you'll be punished."

Good thing this sort of reasoning isn't applied to the media. It might have a Chilling Effect.


Posted by Cassandra at 12:01 PM | Comments (5)

April 07, 2006

The Enemy Within, II

In light of this week's news, I'm doing something I rarely do: reprising an old post rather than repeat myself. This morning I read, in an MSNBC article, a few paragraphs of breathtaking callousness:

The video also clearly showed the bloodied, burning body of a man being dragged by other men through a field. Before the body was moved, the camera zoomed in on what appeared to be his waistline, which showed a scrap of underwear with the brand name “Hanes” on it. The man also appeared to be wearing camouflage fatigues.

The U.S. military said it had recovered “all available remains found on the scene, given the catastrophic nature of the crash.”

In political developments, Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said he won’t abandon his bid for a second term to break the deadlock over a new government, and more than 1,000 of his supporters rallied in the holy city of Karbala, urging an end to “U.S. interference” in Iraqi politics.

"Moving right along...." Perhaps in some alternate universe someone can explain to me how the media rationalize showing videos like this? Surely they know the men who shot that helicopter down had a purpose in giving that video to the American press? Certainly it must occur to anyone with a pulse and an IQ above 50 that they are fulfilling that purpose in airing that video? Or that the family and friends of that downed pilot will certainly see it? But apparently they are not owed the same consideration as the family and friends of Jill Carroll. After all, they are not "insiders".

******************************************************

The fog of war: I have always found this a particularly apt term for the confusion and chaos that result when men contend on the field of battle. As the daughter of a Navy captain and wife to a Marine, war has been a constant refrain in my life, a song playing in the background: mostly quietly, at times receding to a barely-heard whisper; then suddenly, without warning growing to a menacing roar before subsiding to a gentle murmur again.

I grew up with Vietnam. If anyone asked me a few years ago, I'd have told them it had little effect on me. I was just a child, you see. I'd have been wrong.

During the election when John Kerry simply would not shut up about Vietnam I was surprised to feel a growing anger. Where did it come from, this cold rage, this bitter sorrow that overtook me when I least expected it? Why did I care? I was so small then. I didn't really understand it until Laura Armstrong, another service junior, contacted me and I did something very strange: I decided to attend the KerryLied rally in DC. I didn't want to go, really - I can't stand that sort of thing. But I felt compelled, somehow, to be there. And standing in a crowd of people I did not know that sunny day, at times with tears running down my face, it all came flooding back. How I felt as a little girl, watching my parents' black and white TV set as the news anchor read the body counts.

Because that was the war, for me. The magic of television brought the war home, right into my living room. Through the fog that permeates battles going on half a world away, that is all we can ever know of bloody struggles taking place in places we will never see. And it was enough. It was more than enough.

I remember, at times, leaving the room silently and curling up in my bed and trembling, just thinking of all those brothers and daddies who would never come home. I wasn't afraid, really, for my Dad: he was 10 feet tall and bullet-proof. Dads are that way. They fish monsters out from under your bed and fix your bike when it doesn't work; a tiny country in SouthEast Asia ain't no big thang to a dashing hero with a battleship and gold braid on his uniform.

I cringed at the body counts and sterile recitations of battle statistics. But towards the end of the war when journalists began to discover activism, I discovered there were worse things. I hated the napalm pictures and the graphic pictures of the wounded and the way nothing good ever seemed to be reported. I noticed that, even as a child, because my Dad was in the Navy.

Today's coverage of the war is so different. It's even more pronounced because as an "insider" I know more about the successes we're having and I see so few of them reflected in TV and newspaper accounts of the war. Where does this "news" go? What filter separates the good from the bad, allowing only the dismal and discouraging details to penetrate the fog of war? Bob Herbert is disturbed about this filter, too:

The vast amount of suffering and death endured by civilians as a result of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq has, for the most part, been carefully kept out of the consciousness of the average American. I can't think of anything the Bush administration would like to talk about less. You can't put a positive spin on dead children.

Mr. Herbert is a master of the anecdotal, fact-free rant. He has a recipe. He churns out editorials with cookie-cutter precision. Take a single sob story (this week it's the sad tale of Marla Ruzicka, a humanitarian aid worker killed by a suicide bomber) and expand it into a metaphor that encompasses all the agony and pathos of an intrinsically unfair world. Now for the killer twist: a dash of bitter irony only the NY Times can bring to our doorsteps each morning. Though Marla died at the hands of terrorists, by the time Bob gets done with the story we know who's really to blame: the Bush administration. Bam! She placed herself in danger to draw attention to the sad plight of innocent Iraqis. Now let's kick it up another notch. Rub some salt in the wound: the indictment of an uncaring silent partner who, through inaction, must share the blame. The press is complicit in her death - according to Mr. Herbert - because they don't care enough about "tens of thousands" of innocent Iraqi war victims.

Jason van Steenwyk refutes Herbert in detail, but I have a simpler question for him. He celebrates the heroic life and sad death of Marla Ruzicka, who travelled to Iraq to bring attention to the sad plight of "tens of thousands" of innocent Iraqis who he says are dying (at the hands of terrorists). Why, then, does he not celebrate the heroic lives and deaths of the American military, who travelled to Iraq to bring attention to the sad plight of 400,000 innocent Iraqis? And those are just the ones we've found, so far.

Don't they matter, Mr. Herbert?

As we sit in our homes, all we know of war is what they tell us: the media. Mr. Herbert believes they're not telling us the whole truth. I happen to agree. After 9/11, the media decided we shouldn't see images of people falling - jumping, really, in an act of mad desperation - from the Twin Towers. They said it was out of respect for the dead, which is odd since they seem to have no compunction about showing images of our dead servicemembers. Some said it was because the images were too "shocking".

Too shocking. Really? Then what explains the decision to air this footage:

The man in the dark blue flight suit lay face-up in the tall scrub grass looking up nervously at the video camera. Above him stood men with Kalashnikov rifles who had tracked him down to the only cover near where his helicopter had been shot down in the desert.

"Stand up! Stand up!" a voice in Arab-accented English said from off-camera. "I can't. It's broken," the man in the flight suit answered, also in English, with a soft Eastern European accent. The man, in his 40's, with graying hair, raised his head slightly as he spoke and motioned to his right leg. "Give me a hand," he said. "Come here, come here," the off-camera insurgent said, reaching out a hand to pull him up.

Insurgent groups in Iraq have made heavy use of the Internet, posting videos showing ambushes, bombings and beheadings. Many of the videos have been chilling, showing in graphic detail the killings of captured Iraqis and foreigners. In this helicopter crash, the importance attached to videotaping was clear when the pilot was discovered lying in the grass. "Is the recorder on?" an off-camera man asked in Arabic.

These videos obviously have enormous propaganda value to the terrorists. They're not making them as souvenirs: they are calculated to put political pressure on coalition governments and increase opposition to the war on the domestic front. More than one coalition nation has already withdrawn due to the efforts of the kidnappers after widespread public protest forced a showdown. The strategy is working.

All due to the videotaping (and subsequent broadcasting of these videotapes) by the media.

All of which raises disturbing questions about the role of the media during wartime. DOD has made unprecedented efforts to allow embedded journalists liberal access to the military. This implies a certain trust, and a corresponding responsibility on the part of the media since they are, by their very presence, endangering the lives of US forces. Recently a CBS cameraman was arrested on suspicion of insurgent activity. Dorrance Smith asks some hard questions about media culpability during wartime:

As the war continues, more hostages will be taken and acts of murderous violence committed -- leading to more videos for Al-Jazeera and the networks. Isn't it time to scrutinize the relationship among Al-Jazeera, American networks and the terrorists? What role should the U.S. government be playing?
Osama bin Laden, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and al Qaeda have a partner in Al-Jazeera and, by extension, most networks in the U.S. This partnership is a powerful tool for the terrorists in the war in Iraq. Figures show that 77% of Iraqis cite TV as their main source of information; 15% cite newspapers. Current estimates are that close to 100% of Iraqis have access to satellite TV, 18% to cell phones, and 8% to the Internet. The battle for Iraqi hearts and minds is being fought over satellite TV. It is a battle today that we are losing badly.

The collaboration between the terrorists and Al-Jazeera is stronger than ever. While the precise terms of that relationship are virtually unknown, we do know this: Al-Jazeera and the terrorists have a working arrangement that extends beyond a modus vivendi. When the terrorists want to broadcast something that helps their cause, they have immediate and reliable access to Al-Jazeera. This relationship -- in a time of war -- raises some important questions:

What does Al-Jazeera promise the terrorist organizations in order to get consistent access to their video?

Does it pay for material?

Is it promised safety and protection if it continues to air unedited tapes? (No Al-Jazeera employee has been killed or taken hostage by the terrorists. When I ran the Iraqi Television Network, seven employees were killed by terrorists.)

Does Al-Jazeera promise the terrorists that it won't reveal their whereabouts and techniques as a quid pro quo for doing business? Is this bargain in the guise of journalism a defensible practice?

What it all boils down to is this: are American networks protecting, aiding, and abetting the terrorists in return for easy access to terrorist tapes?

During the election, ABC withheld 15 minutes of tape from the CIA on which there was a credible threat of a terrorist attack. Their "rationale" was that if the word got out, it might throw the election to George Bush. A private news network chose to place the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans at risk to satisfy a political agenda. There was no media scrutiny of how ABC got this tape, the ethics of paying terrorists for video during wartime, or why they felt they had the right to imperil the lives of their countrymen.

We hear a lot from the media about the public's "right to know". Strangely, the media seem to feel entitled to decide for themselves what we are entitled to know: a major terrorist threat to our lives is, apparently, not something we have a "right to know".

When young men and women, our sons and daughters whose salaries we pay with our tax dollars, win battles and perform feats of astounding bravery on the field of battle, when they build schools in Iraq or teach children to play soccer or bring a deformed baby to America for desperately needed surgery, this too is something we all too rarely have a "right to know". If they make a mistake in the heat of battle, if ten Marines or soldiers are killed in a firefight, the death count is, of course, page 1 news. The fact that we killed 50 insurgents and won the battle is not.

Images of our brothers, sisters, fathers leaping from a tall building taken from a distance after a horrific terrorist attack are "too shocking" for our consumption. Images taken by psychopathic killers - our enemies - expressly to be used against us in a propaganda war somehow are not.

To paraphrase a famous character, I find the media's lack of faith in America disturbing.

I find their willingness to barter with our enemies unforgivable.

I question our "need to know" some of the things they show us. Did I need to see Margaret Hassan's humilation and fear as she begged for her life? Could they not have afforded her some dignity in the final moments of her life? The terrorists reduced her to a babbling semblance of a human being. I surely did not need to see that, not because it made me uncomfortable, but because, were I her, I would not want that to be anyone's final memory of me.

We can all break, under unbearable stress. This was not "news" - any idiot knows it. That the terrorists are animals, that they could do this to a human being was not "news". It was sensationalism.

And it was calculated to do one thing and one thing only: arouse a desire to rescue her at any cost. To weaken our resolve. To put fear and revulsion in our hearts. To make us question whether any of this is "worth it". And so we are left with this question: if it is not "news", if it conveys no new information, if the only purpose it serves is the one expressly designed by its creators, our enemies, why are American news media airing these videos?

Even through the fog of war, some things are crystal clear.

CWCID: Two things inspired this post. Many thanks to spd rdr for the WSJ piece that got me thinking in the first place, and also this post from CW4BillT.

To Fiddler's Green.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:54 AM | Comments (4)

March 27, 2006

If We Wanted You To Have A Spine, We'd Have Issued You One...

Oy Ve.

It's that time of year again, when young men, sound of mind and limb, worried that they may not be pulling their weight in a war that seems to be dragging on and on, form that age-old line down at the recruiters' office....

Not. Nowadays they're so much more enlightened, donchaknow. They just write impassioned op-ed pieces about how, in a more equitable world, society would force everyone to do their duty.

Because in the end, blaming someone else is always so much easier than looking in the mirror.

Asshat.

Via Jason, who pretty much handed him his hat so I didn't have to.

Posted by Cassandra at 05:15 PM | Comments (8)

March 24, 2006

The Long War: Whither Now?

These are strange times. We seem to have reached a tipping point in the GWOT, though there is no consensus on just which way things are headed. With that bizarre myopia induced by the constant stream of live feeds from CNN, our eyes remain riveted on Iraq and, to a lesser extent, Afghanistan. Signs and omens abound: an IED attack here, a cartoon riot there, the imprisonment of a Christian convert. All take on outsized importance as they scroll across the bottom of our TV sets. Earnest commentators warn us these are just more symbols of our national hubris: our miserable failure to spread democracy to a backward people who clearly aren't ready for prime time.

Somewhere along the line, in our uniquely American brand of dummitude, we lost track of where the real war was taking place:

One of the most fascinating things to fall out of the global war on terrorism has been the impulse of Western Civilization to go picnicking on itself: the endless carping, the analysis of a never-ending parade of “experts”, each of whom has a better idea for how things should have been done, the us-vs-them comparisons, the self-indulgent navel gazing of pundits with far too much time on their hands. Like our European brethren across the pond, America seems to be acquiring an endless appetite for the kind of pointless angst that can only end in moral paralysis.

What seems in increasingly short supply is resolve.

We have forgotten what this long war is all about. What our aims were. What we are fighting. Ironically, after three years in which we have achieved most of what we set out to do, through our own fecklessness and lack of discipline we are in great danger of winning the battle and losing the war.

That this should have happened is not surprising. Though the administration has consistently framed the GWOT as a long-term struggle against Islamic terrorism that must be combatted on many fronts, the press and the antiwar movement recharacterize the issue persuasively and IED attacks and casualty counts pack more punch than abstract ideas. Jed Babbin makes a point too often overlooked in the heat of the pro-war/anti-war debate:

The nascent Iraqi democracy is neither the center of gravity in this war nor a factor determinative of victory or defeat. Iraq is but one key campaign in a larger war and if it becomes a democracy that is a collateral accomplishment, nothing more. To say that doesn't make the sayer an isolationist or someone who wants to abandon Iraq. We didn't invade Afghanistan and Iraq because they weren't democracies. If the lack of democracy were a casus belli we'd be at war with about two-thirds of the world. We counterattacked the Taliban because with malice aforethought they provided the base from which Osama bin Laden organized an attack that killed three thousand Americans and then refused to turn him over to us when we gave them the choice between doing so and war. In Iraq we sincerely believed that the Saddam Hussein regime posed a threat to Americans and attacked only after the UN failed, as it always does, to deal with such a threat. The only goal of this war, which Lowry and the others lost track of, is to end the threat of radical Islam and the terrorism that is its chosen weapon against us.

We mean to win this war by destroying the regimes that provide terrorists with weapons, funds, people, and sanctuary. We mean to defeat the radical Islamist ideology (for that is what it is, not a religion) as we defeated the Soviet communist ideology.

I happen to depart from Babbin's view in that I think the best way to supplant an ideology you don't like is with a competing and superior ideology. The impetus of history is moving towards democracy, and in my view the intelligent actor bets on a winning horse. Because in a nuclear world we'd prefer to have peaceful, non-aggressive neighbors, the horse I want to support in Iraq is democracy, not radical Islam. If this takes many years and much national treasure, then so be it. Even a cursory examination of European demographics or current events shows that the problem of co-existence with radical Islam isn't going to go away because we don't want to face up to it. If we don't deal with it, our children and grandchildren will. That, in a nutshell, is why we are at war.

But we have allowed ourselves to become distracted from the end game. In an excellent piece for the Wall Street Journal, James Q. Wilson asks if a polarized society is capable of winning a protracted war?

It's an interesting question. To listen to the loyal opposition in Congress, one would never know that in 1998 Congress passed the Iraqi Liberation Act with broad bipartisan support, largely due to the widely-held belief that Saddam Hussein posed an ongoing threat to the security of this nation. Bill Clinton had this comment when he signed the bill into law:

The United States favors an Iraq that offers its people freedom at home. I categorically reject arguments that this is unattainable due to Iraq's history or its ethnic or sectarian make-up. Iraqis deserve and desire freedom like everyone else.

One would never know that the authorization to use military force passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, or that it cited instance after instance of Saddam's violations of UN resolutions and his use of WMDs. Oddly, the main criticisms of the war these days seem to be that the intelligence was manipulated or we were 'fooled' into going to war (an contra-factual assertion undermined by the Butler Report, the SSCI report, and the Robb-Silverman Commission Report), or, more bizarrely, that the failure to run a "perfect war" means the whole thing was a miserable failure.

Where in history do we find this "perfect war", one wonders? If the test of moral validity for any war lies in the execution of the ensuing warfighting, we should never have freed the slaves. Yet over and over we hear the silly argument that since this war is taking longer than expected, it is by definition a failure. I call this the "egg timer" theory of warfare: ding! time's up! Doesn't matter whether your cause is just or not! John Murtha says it's time to pull up stakes and go home. It doesn't sound very sensible, put like that, does it?

Another hand-wringing mea culpa-generator is the "Powell-doctrine" Theory. Under this stunner, Colin Powell has inexplicably been raised to the level of Carl von Clausewitz, notwithstanding the fact that Mr. Powell was ensconced at the Dept. of State and not Defense at the start of the war. Greg Djerejian leads the charge here in a real head-exploder:

In good time, I will write my personal mea culpa in this tragic affair. I had greater faith in this Administration, and they have let us down time and again. But it's too easy to say it would all have been OK but for the dumbies who effed up the show. People who supported the war, and there were many of us (on both sides of the aisle, lest we forget), had to keep in mind the abilities of those charged with prosecuting it, and the resources that would be brought to bear. We knew the Powell Doctrine had been shunted aside in favor of utopic transformationalist nostrums, and we knew that some who were listened to in the leading counsels of power had memorably declared the effort would be a cakewalk. We should have smelled the danger signals better, and we deserve the scorn of those who were against this effort from the get-go, at least those who honestly believed we were doing the wrong thing rather than just opposing anything the horrible Bushies would bring to the plate. Also, it should be said, war is a tremendously complex endeavor, and while it's a cliche to state, it's very true that no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy. We can beat up on the war-planners, and their arrogance and reluctance to admit mistakes makes it feel good, but their jobs are never easy ones, and those of us brandishing laptops to castigate all and sundry do well to recall this now and again.

In his ignorance of what "military planners" are really doing and thinking, Mr. Djerejian blithely ignores the fact that the Army has learned a few things since both Vietnam and Colin Powell's time:

In the past, it was commonly held in military circles that the Army failed in Vietnam because civilian leaders forced it to fight a limited war instead of the all-out assault it longed to wage. That belief helped shape the doctrine espoused in the 1980s by Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Colin Powell. They argued that the military should fight only wars in which it could apply quick, overwhelming force to destroy the enemy.

The newer analyses of Vietnam are now supplanting that theory -- and changing the way the Army fights. The argument that the military must exercise restraint is a central point of the Army's new counterinsurgency doctrine. The doctrine, which runs about 120 pages and is still in draft form, is a handbook on how to wage guerrilla wars.

The doctrine's biggest emphasis is on the need to curb the military's use of firepower, which created thousands of refugees and horrific collateral damage in Vietnam. "The more force you use when battling insurgents, the less effective you are," the draft states.

The Army is also using its Vietnam experience to highlight the importance and difficulty of building local security forces that can carry on independently after U.S. forces go home. For most of the Vietnam War, the U.S. gave spotty attention to South Vietnamese forces. Without U.S. air support and artillery they quickly crumbled.

Drawing on its frustrating struggle to prop up a corrupt government in Saigon, the Army in its new blueprint counsels soldiers that anti-guerrilla operations must be focused on building a government that is seen as legitimate in the eyes of the locals. "Military actions conducted without analysis of their political effectiveness will be at best ineffective and at worst help the enemy," the draft doctrine states.

Within the Bush administration, there's broad support for the Army's new direction. It matches President Bush's own shift away from a pre-9/11 aversion to nation-building and guerrilla wars. The current national-security strategy seeks to spread freedom and democracy -- even if it means committing troops to guerrilla fights in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

It is quite possible that had we gone in with overwhelming force right after the invasion of Iraq, we would have created resentment and more support for the insurgency, not less. What rewriters of history love to forget is that many Iraqis were initially somewhat suspicious of the US presence in their country, and this is not surprising. With time and the ongoing attacks from insurgents, they saw the difference between them and us, and realized the benefits of a continued US presence. But had the insurgency never become strong, it's quite possible that shift in opinion would never have taken place.

The endless debates over why we went to war in Iraq and Afghanistan: who's to blame, and whether we are winning or losing, are a needless distraction from the task at hand, which is to put an end the threat radical Islamism poses to our civilization. In the American Thinker, J.R. Dunn has embarked on a three-part series on the wider war. Part I begins:

We are still amid early days, roughly the days of Midway and Guadalcanal and El Alamein in a previous great struggle. “Not the beginning of the end,” as Churchill put it, “but the end of the beginning.”

The Jihadis have lost Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s true that fighting continues in both countries, but at this point it’s effectively theater. It can’t be repeated often enough that the type of war we are involved in is as much political as it is military. By any political measure, the Jihadis have been routed. Their only chance of prevailing was to appeal to the Iraqis and Afghans as a viable alternative to elected democratic governments. No such attempt was ever made. Instead, the Jihadis have relentlessly made the Iraqis and Afghans suffer. Their final chance in Iraq lay in derailing the political process last year. They failed at this, and now it is over. Not the violence – there will be car bombs going off in Iraq for years to come, unfortunately. But any opportunity of a Jihadi victory is gone.

Part II focuses on Europe:

Many observers believe it’s already too late, that Europe is one with Sumeria and Byzantium, that all that remains is the funeral procession. They point to the numbers of native births – below replacement level of 2.1 children per couple in almost every country—compared to those of Muslim immigrants, which are two to three times higher, and echo Bernard Lewis’s now-famous prediction, “Europe will be Muslim by the end of the century.”

Europe in also unfortunate in that its overall government, the European Union, has established itself, in defiance of the experience of the past century, as the kind of managerial superstate proven unfeasible just about everywhere else on earth. EU bureaucrats have set out to demonstrate the obvious once again with considerable eagerness, meddling in international affairs while attempting to micromanage those of its own citizens, wasting immense amounts of resources on trivial aims, and generating completely avoidable crises to no rational purpose. The EU is about the last form of government capable of leading a fight for survival, but it’s what the Europeans have.

It's a long series, but well worth reading.

I believe we are in danger of losing the wider war because we have forgotten two things: why (and what) we are fighting, and where the true battle is taking place. Because as much as I honor our brave men and women in uniform, the true battle for the heart and soul of Western Civilization is taking place back here, at home. War is just politics by other means, and it cannot go on without money and political support.

If we fail, if we falter, we lose all. I very much fear that while we are all busy shopping at Costco or watching American Idol, the battle for the future of our civilization will be lost and we will never even notice.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:07 AM | Comments (1)

March 20, 2006

The Crying Game

I wasn't going to write today. For hours now I've been staring at my monitor with furious tears running down my face. I should walk away. I know that.

But I can't, because it's started again. The vast war punditocracy is literally wallowing in its own angst. The carping. The second guessing. The insincere mea culpas. The weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth that conceal a too delicious satisfaction at the endless stream of negative headlines in the local fishwrap. Who can resist the ghoulish urge to appear smarter than thou; to say "I told you so"?

And then there are the apologists. Like players in some obscene game of intellectual Twister they tie themselves into knots in their frantic attempts to cover all the bases. Initial supporters of the war and the administration, they blow hot and cold with each victory or reversal. The wonderful thing about this stance being that regardless of the day's events they can always point to an old post and, like the Amazing Kreskin, say, "See? I predicted this!". This week, of course, the news is not so good so it's time to turn the cannons on the home team and earn intellectual brownie points for being morally unflinching:

"Aiiieeeee! I was wrong to support the Bu$Hitler and his incompetent torture regime! Tune in at 7 and watch me commit ritual self-flagellation with my keyboard!".

Well I have a news flash for all of you armchair generals. While you're all running up the white flag, reassessing the big picture, pompously declaring the battle all but lost from the pricey Biedermeyer desk in your SoHo loft, a lot of good men are still fighting and dying over there. This war is not a bloody academic exercise and I assure you that to them, it is far from over.

And you all ought to be ashamed of yourselves.

Even the praise these days is backhanded. In last week's Post, David Ignatius lauds the fact that we're finally "fighting smarter" in Iraq, as though war were some sterile tactical exercise we could plan for in advance; as though there were some reasonable historical precedent for expecting everything go smoothly the first time out. Of course even training and field exercises don't go that way: Murphy's Law is nowhere more in evidence than when you try to move large numbers of men and equipment quickly. This is why we practice in peacetime, and even when we're not under fire and we control the terrain and conditions, things often don't go well. But somehow the well-known fact that war is unpredictable mysteriously morphs into a failure of planning rather than a fact of life when the half-vast punditocracy gets ahold of it:

Three years on, the U.S. military is finally becoming adept at fighting a counterinsurgency war in Iraq. Sadly, these are precisely the skills that should have been mastered before America launched its invasion in March 2003. It may prove one of the costliest lessons in the history of modern warfare.

I had a chance to see the new counterinsurgency doctrine in practice here this week. U.S. troops are handing off to the Iraqi army a growing share of the security burden. As the Iraqis step up, the Americans are stepping back into a training and advisory role. This is the way it should have happened from the beginning.

This is, without doubt, one of the most asinine statements I have ever read, though the competition is admittedly steep. The Iraqis weren't ready to step up in the beginning, Mr. Ignatius. The crucial element you and every other critic of this conflict ignore is time. It takes time to train an army, time to quell an insurgency, more time to win a war when your own press require you to fight in a restrained manner that limits both our own casualties and what is euphemistically called colateral damage. If you want kindler, gentler warfare, then you must allow more time for things to be accomplished. And that is precisely what no one wants to do. Rich Lowry echoes several arguments I have made before:

A lot of people have written this lately, usually with the implicit suggestion that this is some sudden development, that out of nowhere these fairly effective Iraqi troops are appearing and contributing to a better counter-insurgency effort. But the strategy that is now beginning to bear fruit has been in place for a long time, as anyone would know who actually listened to what the administration was saying over the last year or more. All during the long, long period that the administration was scored for having no strategy in Iraq (a charge, I regret to say, echoed in this very Corner), the strategy that is now being recognized was in place. It just took time to take hold. Apparently few people anymore have enough patience to realize some things take time.

Lowry also effectively takes on the "more boots on the ground" meme. It is arguable that more troops would have helped, though I'm not sure what we would have done with them in the beginning since our strategy was to go in with a light footprint (and indeed the same anti-war types who now blame us for not securing Iraq quickly enough were warning against us being an "occupying force" right after the invasion). There is a lot of historical revisionism going on as Democrats who complained bitterly about the cost of the war and the dangers of a continued US presence in Iraq now pretend they would have supported sending in more troops. I think we can all agree that is utter nonsense:

It's not necessarily how many troops you have, but what they're doing. I'm no military expert (obviously), but this is why I tend to dis-believe anyone who argues winning in Iraq just required X-number of additional troops.

Would these additional troops have had a complex understanding of Iraqi tribal politics? Would they have known all the key players on the ground in their area--who to trust and not to trust? Would they have gotten better intelligence tips from the Iraqi public? Would they have understood that the traditional American “kinetic” approach to warfare really doesn't apply in a counter-insurgency? I doubt it. All of this knowledge takes time to develop. It means being on the ground and tasting and feeling local conditions. It is conventional wisdom that we “wasted” the first year in Iraq. It is true that we were ineffectual during that year, but it wasn't wasted as long as we were learning and adjusting--as we were.

A final point. Any additional troops wouldn't have made much of a difference if they had been engaged in the kind of large sweeps without holding territory that we used for so long in Iraq. They might have made a difference, however, if they had been used to garrison every Iraqi town. But there was a judgment made that that would have been too heavy-handed and we should instead wait to hold territory until Iraqi forces were available to do it. You can argue with this strategic judgment, but it is not an unreasonable one. Indeed, the same people who suggest the administration didn't have a strategy now praise our approach in Iraq because, in the words of Igantius, “Americans are stepping back into a training and advisory role.” So does the administration get any credit for having had this as its goal--and consistently working toward it--for so long? Of course not.

In today's Post, Ibrahim al-Jafari speaks of his vision for Iraq:

Ultimately, I will work to secure the reality of a democratic, liberal, peaceful Iraq -- a beacon for freedom in the Middle East. This is not merely a wish but an article of faith. Having lived in London for the majority of my years in exile, I appreciate the importance of liberty for both guaranteeing democracy and ensuring human development.

I am hopeful that with Iraqi determination, and the support of the multinational force, we can defeat the terrorists and make Iraq the first democratic Arab country. I believe in working toward a peaceful, stable and nuclear-free Middle East, where Iraq is not the rogue state that it was under the previous regime.

The road ahead will be tough, but the Iraqi people have demonstrated their bravery, determination and resolve. The world should not falter at such a crucial stage in history.

This is a man who has tasted freedom, and wants it for his homeland. I wish our own belief in the value of freedom were as strong as his. But instead of holding firm, we waver and bend this way and that with each breeze that blows. How can a nation like Iraq have faith in us, if we do not have faith in ourselves? How can we expect them to fight for the right to be free if we, the richest and most powerful nation on the face of the earth, cower before madmen and say we can no longer afford the price of liberty?

What kind of people are we, who send men to die on our behalves on foreign soil, then carp and complain from our comfortable homes when things don't go as planned, who speak of retreat when they cannot bring us victory as soon as we had hoped? Is this what history teaches us? That battles are won with an egg-timer? That the moral worth of a cause is judged by whether things went according to the initial plan? In that case, our own Civil War to free the slaves must have been a miserable failure. How many died in that bloody and protracted conflict? How many generals were relieved? How many tens of thousands were slaughtered in battles that were ill-supplied, poorly planned, poorly led, and badly executed?

War is an ugly thing. It cannot be fought by half-hearted soldiers and if there is one thing history teaches us it's that winning wars is as much a function of dogged determination as anything else. A nation that constantly reassesses itself midstream has lost the war before it begins. When progressives like the Guardian and Lawrence Kaplan begin to make a principled case for staying the course, a tide has turned.

What a pity that so many on the conservative side of the house appear to have become unmanned just when their support is most needed. Like jackals, they snap at the heels of our leaders, vying with each other to be the first to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

There is a long tradition among military wives of preparing our own for the departure of their men. I always asked my wives to keep their spirits up: to guard against depressing news stories, not to write their husbands with bad news, to try to keep their letters and cards upbeat. Men who are away from their families have so much to worry about. It is hard enough for them to face the lonely watches of the night, to do what they must do on our behalf, without sharing our burdens. We do not need to load our fears for them onto the loads they already carry. Yet we here at home give no thought to how our words will be received by Iraqis, worried we will perhaps lose heart, or the lonely Marine or soldier on patrol. Like spoiled children, we demand the freedom to trot out our fears, even in wartime. After all, this is America.

The truth is that not even historians get history right until years later. We see as through a glass, darkly. Yet a horde of modern-day pundits can't wait to pronounce the war all but over. And their gloomy and thoughtless words become just one more cost of freedom for the soldier on patrol, who must bear all for those who demand the right to do anything and say anything without thinking and without self-limitation.

Well it isn't over, and you aren't the ones fighting over there. You are safe in your homes here and if you're honest, you'll admit you haven't the slightest idea how this war will come out. But your words travel across the globe in an instant, just like the words of a lonely wife who can't resist leaning on her absent husband in the darkness of yet another lonely evening. And somewhere, under the stars of a desert sky half a world away, he will read your words, and falter, and begin to doubt.

Do you feel important now? I hope so.

Pardon me if I sit this one out. I'm not betting on the talkers in life this go-round. I'm betting on the doers. The Iraqi army and the United States military. They are the ones who will make or break this great enterprise, and you might stop to consider the effect your constant gloom and doom parade has on these very human factors in the complex political and human equation that is Iraq.

I do. Every day, before I exercise the freedom of speech I am privileged with.


Posted by Cassandra at 05:25 AM | Comments (10)

March 15, 2006

Lies, I Tell You!

mayor.jpg Whatever you do, do not believe this man. He does not exist, and his words are as sand blowing on the wind:

"I'd like American citizens not to trust everything that is being said in the media because, unfortunately, most of the media is talking about negative things and about the problems," al-Jibouri said, speaking through a translator.

"They are not telling good stories about the U.S. Army's good job here in Iraq. I would like American citizens to concentrate on the pictures that show the children of Iraqis and how happy they feel when they see or meet American soldiers."

Under no circumstances should you read this, either:

In the Name of God the Compassionate and Merciful

To the Courageous Men and Women of the 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment, who have changed the city of Tall’ Afar from a ghost town, in which terrorists spread death and destruction, to a secure city flourishing with life.

To the lion-hearts who liberated our city from the grasp of terrorists who were beheading men, women and children in the streets for many months.

To those who spread smiles on the faces of our children, and gave us restored hope, through their personal sacrifice and brave fighting, and gave new life to the city after hopelessness darkened our days, and stole our confidence in our ability to reestablish our city.

Our city was the main base of operations for Abu Mousab Al Zarqawi. The city was completely held hostage in the hands of his henchmen. Our schools, governmental services, businesses and offices were closed. Our streets were silent, and no one dared to walk them. Our people were barricaded in their homes out of fear; death awaited them around every corner. Terrorists occupied and controlled the only hospital in the city. Their savagery reached such a level that they stuffed the corpses of children with explosives and tossed them into the streets in order to kill grieving parents attempting to retrieve the bodies of their young. This was the situation of our city until God prepared and delivered unto them the courageous soldiers of the 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment, who liberated this city, ridding it of Zarqawi’s followers after harsh fighting, killing many terrorists, and forcing the remaining butchers to flee the city like rats to the surrounding areas, where the bravery of other 3d ACR soldiers in Sinjar, Rabiah, Zumar and Avgani finally destroyed them.

I have met many soldiers of the 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment; they are not only courageous men and women, but avenging angels sent by The God Himself to fight the evil of terrorism.

The leaders of this Regiment; COL McMaster, COL Armstrong, LTC Hickey, LTC Gibson, and LTC Reilly embody courage, strength, vision and wisdom. Officers and soldiers alike bristle with the confidence and character of knights in a bygone era. The mission they have accomplished, by means of a unique military operation, stands among the finest military feats to date in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and truly deserves to be studied in military science. This military operation was clean, with little collateral damage, despite the ferocity of the enemy. With the skill and precision of surgeons they dealt with the terrorist cancers in the city without causing unnecessary damage.

God bless this brave Regiment; God bless the families who dedicated these brave men and women. From the bottom of our hearts we thank the families. They have given us something we will never forget. To the families of those who have given their holy blood for our land, we all bow to you in reverence and to the souls of your loved ones. Their sacrifice was not in vain. They are not dead, but alive, and their souls hovering around us every second of every minute. They will never be forgotten for giving their precious lives. They have sacrificed that which is most valuable. We see them in the smile of every child, and in every flower growing in this land. Let America, their families, and the world be proud of their sacrifice for humanity and life.

Finally, no matter how much I write or speak about this brave Regiment, I haven’t the words to describe the courage of its officers and soldiers. I pray to God to grant happiness and health to these legendary heroes and their brave families.

NAJIM ABDULLAH ABID AL-JIBOURI
Mayor of Tall ‘Afar, Ninewa, Iraq


Posted by Cassandra at 07:19 AM | Comments (2)

March 02, 2006

Promises of Hope, Omens of Disaster

How do we judge, rightly, the promise that is Iraq? Out of the broken shards of the Golden Dome at Samarra, what will rise?

For three years now we have witnessed the anguished hand-wringing of countless pundits. At any moment civil war, that ne plus ultra of all bad, scary monsters hiding under the liberal bed at night, was said to be breaking out, all due to the reckless unilateralism of that awful cowboy Bush. Of course in all the delicious outrage, who would dare to suggest civil war was the inevitable and desired result (if not the only logical consequence) of this little bill, signed into law with bipartisan support by William Jefferson Clinton:

Today I am signing into law H.R. 4655, the "Iraq Liberation Act of 1998." This Act makes clear that it is the sense of the Congress that the United States should support those elements of the Iraqi opposition that advocate a very different future for Iraq than the bitter reality of internal repression and external aggression that the current regime in Baghdad now offers.

Let me be clear on what the U.S. objectives are: The United States wants Iraq to rejoin the family of nations as a freedom-loving and law-abiding member. This is in our interest and that of our allies within the region.

The United States favors an Iraq that offers its people freedom at home. I categorically reject arguments that this is unattainable due to Iraq's history or its ethnic or sectarian make-up. Iraqis deserve and desire freedom like everyone else. The United States looks forward to a democratically supported regime that would permit us to enter into a dialogue leading to the reintegration of Iraq into normal international life.

How soon we forget. Yet today the party who sternly denounce so-called racial profiling at our airports see no discontinuity in pronouncing the Iraqis "not quite ready for prime time" (aka, democracy). How very special: apparently freedom only works for the kind of irony-impaired, elite, overfed Western academic who wants to bar its defenders from Ivy League campuses in the name of inclusion.

Almost as if to spite the doubters, the Iraqis continue to rise to the occasion. Past doubt, past fear, through every setback fortune has set in their path they doggedly put their heads down and persevere. And still, we doubt them.

At times, they begin to doubt themselves. Last week Zeyad of Healing Iraq wrote:

What kind of nation are we? What kind of nation kills its intellectuals and academics, its doctors and healers, its women and children, its clerics and preachers? What kind of nation blows up churches and mosques, hotels and schools, funerals and weddings? We have left nothing sacred. Yet we have the insolence to accuse others of offending us, of vilifying us. I announce today that we have proved ourselves worthy of that vilification. Ten years ago, I denounced religion and disavowed Islam. I do not want to be forced to disavow my country and nation today, but with every new day, I’m afraid I am getting closer to it.

022206golden_dome.jpg As Max Boot writes in the LA Times, seen up close, Iraq gets blurry:

ARE WE WINNING or losing in Iraq? Liberals and conservatives safe at home have no trouble formulating glib answers to that fundamental question. The former can always point to setbacks, the latter to successes. The picture becomes blurrier, the future murkier when you spend time in Iraq, as I did last week.

Boot spent time talking to US commanders. He learned, as people often do when they take the time to grope past the iron curtain erected by the American media, that we are making considerable headway; that we have our little successes, even if they aren't considered fit reading for the American public. He leaves, days later, more uncertain than when he arrived:

A few days later, while visiting the Green Zone in Baghdad, I was briefed on the progress being made in standing up Iraqi forces. A year ago, only three Iraqi battalions controlled their own "battle- space." Today, the total is up to 40 battalions and counting. Those units have achieved impressive results in some rough neighborhoods. As I discovered firsthand, it is now safe to travel down Route Irish between the Green Zone and Baghdad airport — once the most dangerous road in the world. Yet there are well-justified concerns about sectarian divisions and human rights abuses within the security forces.

Worst of all, just when the situation seems to be improving, a spectacular act of violence such as the mosque bombing will bring the country to the edge of the abyss. As Jones noted ruefully during a 30-minute ride between his base and the giant U.S. logistics hub near Balad, "You can go days without anything bad happening, and then you find 47 dead bodies." Which is more important — the signs of progress that mostly pass unheralded, or the continuing woes splashed across newspaper front pages? I left Iraq more uncertain than when I arrived.

It's a good question: how do we measure success in Iraq? When will it be safe to declare "mission accomplished"?

It occurs to me that it's all a question of standards. If the standard is going to be no violence, then we'll never be "done". But this isn't Peoria, Illinois. It's the Middle East. Israel has been a democracy since 1945 and it is still experiencing terrorist attacks. By that metric, Israel isn't "ready for democracy": it has an insurgent problem that just won't go away, doesn't it? But on the other hand, the vast majority of its people go about their business in peace most of the time.

join.bmp As Robert Kaplan points out, we can't force democracy on the Iraqis. But I think he's wrong in one vital respect. I'm not sure we're forcing it on them. They've had a number of opportunities to elect against it, and they seem to be choosing it every chance they get, even with all its manifest drawbacks. And from all indications they are more optimistic about their future, even with all the insecurity they are experiencing now, than they were before. People are not meant to be sheep. They want to be free, even when freedom brings insecurity, worry, electricity that doesn't work and shortages of certain commodities.

Kaplan seems to pose something of a false dichotomy between benevolent despotism and democracy, but this choice was never afforded to Iraq. Hussein may have made some of the trains run on time, but he was anything but benevolent. His theoretical choice seems attractive, but I'd wager most of us would rather take our chances with a fairly disorganized set of brigands who subject us to random acts of horrific violence than live under a regimented state where ruthless repression, torture, and imprisonment are not only institutionalized but brutally efficient. No wonder the Iraqis feel that things are looking up.

Pundits on both the left and right agree on one thing: the long term fate of Iraq does not lie in our hands. To think otherwise is both hubristic and foolish. Only the Iraqis can determine their future. But that is a good thing, I think, because unlike their many critics, I have faith in them.

What we must be wary of is defining success by myopic yardsticks that lead us to despair over things we cannot control, or the kind of cock-eyed optimism that leads us to overlook the real dangers that still lie in wait for us in an increasingly dangerous world. Critics of our present course lament the undeniable fact that we cannot completely control events in Iraq. Yet we do have some influence. That is more than we had when Saddam Hussein was in power. If our goals are now deemed over-ambitious (if failing to impose a perfectly mature democracy in three years on a dysfunctional state can be termed a 'failure') perhaps it is yardsticks for success which are at fault rather than the goals themselves.

It is an old adage of war that no plan long survives contact with the enemy. There are worse things than failing to achieve a worthy goal within the originally allotted time. One of them is allowing the plan to become more important than the final objective, a lesson which Congressional critics like John Murtha could stand to consider. Another is choosing yardsticks for success that assure you can never win the game. That is what I very much fear we have done in Iraq.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:35 AM | Comments (5)

February 28, 2006

Dark Days Indeed, GWOT Edition

Well, as Wretchard notes, despite unrelenting encouragement from experts like Joe Biden, the insurgency has once again failed to incite civil war in Iraq. Apparently even Moqtada al-Sadr is now disassociating himself from the violence:

Sadr's about-face suggests he wants to distance himself from a failed enterprise. He is not, definitely not the kind of guy to go down with the Titanic after letting the women and children into the lifeboats. This suggests the civil war crisis has been beaten down for now. However, if those uniforms are new and Sad'r and the al-Qaeda (mentioned elsewhere in Healing Iraq's post) were practically ready to exploit the civil unrest from the start, then one might speculate whether the Golden Mosque attack was not part of a larger plot to spark up a civil war in Iraq.

If the half-vast editorial staff were looking around for suspects, we'd start on Capitol Hill. Now that it's all over but the shouting, there is time to mourn the real victims of this horrific chapter in Iraq's history. Who will chronicle the real story of these dark days? And what will the lede be?

I can see it now:

Civil War Averted: NY Times Hardest Hit

But don't worry. There is always more dirt on our brave, murdering troops to be discovered by the crusading media. Apparently new and even more gruesome allegations have surfaced that US troops have been covering up the sadistic torture of innocent Arab children. This is a story I did not want to have to tell, but if we do not police our own, then we forfeit the right to hold up our heads among the free and democratic nations of the world.

orig.jpg

Disgusting....

Where is the aptly-named Dick Durbin on this one?

Posted by Cassandra at 08:50 AM | Comments (7)

February 17, 2006

The Slumbering Giant Awakens...Too Late?

Via the admirable Ed Lasky, the bombshell story of the year simmers away in the background as the American media disappear down a rabbit hole after the riveting story of Dick Cheney's murderous attack on an "innocent" lawyer:

Members of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey's board of commissioners will meet next Wednesday to discuss the proposed deal that would grant control of significant operations at one of their ports to a company owned by the Dubai government in the United Arab Emirates, a country with ties to terrorism.

Opposition to the proposed deal, which would give Dubai Ports World operational control at six American seaports - including one in Manhattan and one in New Jersey - is gathering steam both in the Port Authority and among members of Congress.

Ed points out:

Even the New York Times is aghast at the prospect of a United Arab Emirates company taking control of several of our major ports. I can’t be sure if they get their marching orders from Schumer or vice- versa, but in any event it is a good way to embarrass Bush.

Of course, a rejection at this stage will ignite further anti-Americanism in the Arab and Muslim worlds. But can we afford to let control of several of our principal ports fall into hands whose loyalties are not necessarily to our security?

At the risk of being called a xenophobe, I don't think this has anything to do with the fact that the UAE is an Arabic nation. I don't see how, in the wake of 9/11, it is in our strategic interest to allow our ports to be controlled by any foreign nation. This isn't prejudice: it is simply good sense. I would no sooner want to make a similar deal with Great Britain. Our ports are too important an asset to have them made vulnerable in this manner.

This is just madness. There are limits to free enterprise and national security demands that some sensible constraints be placed on the freedom to contract. I cannot imagine what CFIUS is thinking.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:20 AM | Comments (6)

February 07, 2006

It's Like A Jungle Sometimes...

Via Howard Bashman, this fascinating look at the interplay between Congress and the Executive branch. And people wonder why the White House has taken a broad view of its Article 2 powers during wartime (a move which, by the way, is hardly unprecedented in American history since Roosevelt, Truman, Lincoln and other widely-admired Presidents did precisely the same thing).

Could it be because Congress is so paralyzed by politics that it isn't doing its job? Is it possible this is why we have three co-equal branches of government with very different structures and purposes? Or perhaps why the Executive branch is headed by, of all things, a unitary executive whose power has traditionally expanded in wartime and contracted in peacetime? Do tell...

"This is really not a good way to begin these hearings," Senate judiciary committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., sighed this morning, only a few minutes after he opened them. Specter was talking about the kerfuffle over whether to swear in Attorney General Alberto Gonzales before his testimony. But he could have been talking about the parameters he had agreed to for the hearing: No witnesses other than Gonzales. No new details of the National Security Agency spying program that the committee was supposed to be inquiring about. No request for the Justice Department's internal legal memorandums about the legality of the NSA program.

...The fuss over whether Gonzales should testify under oath seemed to be about the possibility, at least in Specter's mind, that the attorney general was about to say something that could get him into trouble for lying. Gonzales had been sworn in when he testified twice before, as have other Department of Justice officials. Today, though, Specter said such an oath was "unwarranted" (though Gonzales had agreed to take it).

What follows is classic divide and conquer. Republican Senators aren't sure whether the enemy is the Executive branch, the DNC... or both:

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina was one of the Republicans who wasn't going for it. "When I voted for [the AUMF], I never envisioned that I was giving to this president or any other president the ability to go around FISA carte blanche," he said. "I would suggest to you, Mr. Attorney General, it would be harder for the next president to get a force resolution if we take this too far." Gonzales said he understood Graham's concern. But he didn't budge—how could he? Specter also had a question that Gonzales didn't want to answer. "Why not take your entire program to the FISA court within the broad parameters of what is reasonable and constitutional and ask the FISA court to approve it or disapprove it?" Specter asked.

Well first of all, as I observed back in December, "what is Constitutional" wasn't an open-and-shut case even before the BushHitler shredded the Constitution and fed it to Barney the White House terrier:

Strangely enough, warrantless searches are relatively commonplace in a domestic setting. In fact, you might be surprised to find out just how many examples of warrantless searches go on all the time right under our very noses.

Even when it can be shown definitively that prior Presidents used [warrantless] physical searches, which are far more intrusive, during peacetime and against American citizens without impeachment, some call for a wartime President to be removed from office for conducting far less intrusive searches with far more cause. Strangely enough, for these people the argument seems to turn on whether Congress can pass laws which mysteriously override the Constitution. Last time I checked, Congress did not possess that authority.

When one lifts one's head from the chattering on both sides of the political aisle, one thing seems crystal clear.

The President's authority stems from the Constitution, and his first duty is to that Constitution and to the citizens of this nation. This is likewise true of both Congress and the FISA Court, who are both being cited as though they somehow overrule the President instead of being co-equal branches of government, with co-equal powers, under the Constitution.

Each branch of government is set up to act as both a check and a balance upon the others. That they both check and balance each other necessarily implies that at times their powers will conflict.

One cannot help but wonder at the impact on US History if past Presidents such as Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Truman had been impeached for taking a similarly expansive view of their Article II powers during wartime. But Senate Democrats, who revere the role of historical "precedent" and custom when the judiciary or the filibuster are at issue, want to set it aside when it suits their purpose in attacking the Executive.

And regarding Arlen Specter's question, Victoria Toensing has a few choice words. Is Senator Spector implying the FISA court has the power to set its own empowering legislation aside? That is a truly startling suggestion:

FISA still requires extensive time-consuming procedures. To prepare the two- to three-inch thick applications for nonemergency warrants takes months. The so-called emergency procedure cannot be done in a few hours, let alone minutes. The attorney general is not going to approve even an emergency FISA intercept based on a breathless call from NSA.

For example, al Qaeda Agent X, having a phone under FISA foreign surveillance, travels from Pakistan to New York. The FBI checks airline records and determines he is returning to Pakistan in three hours. Background information must be prepared and the document delivered to the attorney general. By that time, Agent X has done his business and is back on the plane to Pakistan, where NSA can resume its warrantless foreign surveillance. Because of the antiquated requirements of FISA, the surveillance of Agent X has to cease only during the critical hours he is on U.S. soil, presumably planning the next attack.

Even if time were not an issue, any emergency FISA application must still establish the required probable cause within 72 hours of placing the tap. So al Qaeda Agent A is captured in Afghanistan and has Agent B's number in his cell phone, which is monitored by NSA overseas. Agent B makes two or three calls every day to Agent C, who flies to New York. That chain of facts, without further evidence, does not establish probable cause for a court to believe that C is an agent of a foreign power with information about terrorism. Yet, post 9/11, do the critics want NSA to cease monitoring Agent C just because he landed on U.S. soil?

Good question. And it appears to be one that Congress still does not want to answer.

Posted by Cassandra at 12:16 PM | Comments (0)

February 05, 2006

The SSCI Bites Back on NSA Wiretapping

Once again, Howard Dean has opened his mouth and inserted both feet:

“President Bush’s secret program to spy on the American people reminds Americans of the abuse of power during the dark days of President Nixon and Vice President Spiro Agnew.”

Sen. Pat Roberts, head of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, didn't waste any time setting Howie straight, however:

Any suggestion that a program designed to track the movement, locations, plans, or intentions of our enemy – particularly those that have infiltrated our borders – is equivalent to abusive domestic surveillance of the past is ludicrous. When Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson approved the electronic surveillance of Martin Luther King, those Presidents were targeting American citizens based on activities protected by the First Amendment. When President Richard Nixon used warrantless wiretaps, they were not directed at enemies that had attacked the United States and killed thousands of Americans.

...the careful and targeted program authorized by President Bush has no relation to the abuses of the past. Indeed, its closest antecedent is the direction of President Franklin D. Roosevelt to Attorney General Robert H. Jackson on the eve of World War II. With war looming and reports of lurking enemy saboteurs, President Roosevelt ordered the use of domestic electronic surveillance to target “persons suspected of subversive activities.” As President Roosevelt noted, “It is too late to do anything about it after sabotage, assassinations and ‘fifth column’ activities are completed.” Significantly, President Roosevelt’s direction was issued despite a statute (Section 605 of the Communications Act of 1934) and Supreme Court precedent (United States v. Nardone, 302 U.S. 379 (1937)) that prohibited such wiretapping.

I am starting to like this Pat Roberts very much.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:37 AM | Comments (1)

February 04, 2006

Is The Outrage Over "Domestic Spying" Wrongly Directed

Over and over we are bombarded with outraged statements from various public figures who are certain the secret NSA surveillance program was unconstitutional and the President violated the law by allowing warrantless wiretaps on persons located within the United States who communicate with our enemies during time of war.

The Coalition of the Outraged allege that Congress was left in the dark and the President had no right to bypass FISA statutes, which are not only outdated but fail to specifically address the type of intelligence-gathering being conducted by the NSA. Victoria Toensing, who as part of her duties was actively involved in FISA oversight shortly after the enabling legislation was passed, comments:

FISA, written in 1978, is technologically antediluvian. It was drafted by legislators who had no concept of how terrorists could communicate in the 21st century or the technology that would be invented to intercept those communications. The rules regulating the acquisition of foreign intelligence communications were drafted when the targets to be monitored had one telephone number per residence and all the phones were plugged into the wall. Critics like Al Gore and especially critics in Congress, rather than carp, should address the gaps created by a law that governs peacetime communications-monitoring but does not address computers, cell phones or fiber optics in the midst of war.

The NSA undoubtedly has identified many foreign phone numbers associated with al Qaeda. If these numbers are monitored only from outside the U.S., as consistent with FISA requirements, the agency cannot determine with certainty the location of the persons who are calling them, including whether they are in the U.S. New technology enables the president, via NSA, to establish an early-warning system to alert us immediately when any person located in the U.S. places a call to, or receives a call from, one of the al Qaeda numbers. Do Mr. Gore and congressional critics want the NSA to be unable to locate a secret al Qaeda operative in the U.S.?

Even if time were not an issue, any emergency FISA application must still establish the required probable cause within 72 hours of placing the tap. So al Qaeda Agent A is captured in Afghanistan and has Agent B's number in his cell phone, which is monitored by NSA overseas. Agent B makes two or three calls every day to Agent C, who flies to New York. That chain of facts, without further evidence, does not establish probable cause for a court to believe that C is an agent of a foreign power with information about terrorism. Yet, post 9/11, do the critics want NSA to cease monitoring Agent C just because he landed on U.S. soil?

Apparently so. So what does the head of Congress'intelligence oversight committee think? Apparently, he begs to differ with critics of the "domestic spying" program:

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts said Friday the Bush administration's domestic spying is within the president's inherent power under the Constitution, and he rejected criticism that Congress was kept in the dark about it.

The program is "legal, necessary and reasonable," the Kansas Republican wrote in a 19-page letter, taking a particularly expansive view of the president's authority for the warrantless surveillance.

"Congress, by statute, cannot extinguish a core constitutional authority of the president," Roberts wrote.

Presidents from George Washington to George W. Bush have intercepted communications to ascertain enemy threats to national security, Roberts told the chairman and ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Roberts' letter came just three days before that panel was to question Attorney General Alberto Gonzales about the surveillance.

Roberts said the Bush administration's notification of just eight members of Congress fulfilled the legal requirement that the legislative branch be kept fully and currently informed.

Roberts has received a dozen briefings on the program; the committee's ranking Democrat, Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, half that many.

Meanwhile, the media blithely ignore the question of whether James Risen and the NY Times violated the law when they deliberately bypassed the Congressional intelligence oversight committee, choosing instead to publish classified information during wartime. They excuse their intentional breach of their legal and civic duty by saying the President broke the law. There are two problems with this argument:

First of all, two wrongs do not make a right. If we accept the media's argument, the President would be within his rights to sidestep Congress altogether on the grounds that Congresspersons have leaked classified information in the past.

Secondly, it has not been established that the President broke the law. The media are assuming facts not in evidence to excuse their own lawbreaking.

So, what law did the Times and Mr. Risen break? As it turns out, a law specifically crafted to deal with this precise situation:

...in 1950, as Edgar and Schmidt also note, in the wake of a series of cold-war espionage cases, and with the Chicago Tribune episode still fresh in its mind, Congress added a very clear provision to the U.S. Criminal Code dealing specifically with “communications intelligence”—exactly the area reported on by the Times and James Risen. Here is the section in full, with emphasis added to those words and passages applicable to the conduct of the New York Times:

§798. Disclosure of Classified Information.

(a) Whoever knowingly and willfully communicates, furnishes, transmits, or otherwise makes available to an unauthorized person, or publishes, or uses in any manner prejudicial to the safety or interest of the United States or for the benefit of any foreign government to the detriment of the United States any classified information—

(1) concerning the nature, preparation, or use of any code, cipher, or cryptographic system of the United States or any foreign government; or
(2) concerning the design, construction, use, maintenance, or repair of any device, apparatus, or appliance used or prepared or planned for use by the United States or any foreign government for cryptographic or communication intelligence purposes; or
(3) concerning the communication intelligence activities of the United States or any foreign government; or
(4) obtained by the processes of communication intelligence from the communications of any foreign government, knowing the same to have been obtained by such processes—

Shall be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.

(b) As used in this subsection (a) of this section—
The term “classified information” means information which, at the time of a violation of this section, is, for reasons of national security, specifically designated by a United States Government Agency for limited or restricted dissemination or distribution;

The term “communication intelligence” means all procedures and methods used in the interception of communications and the obtaining of information from such communications by other than the intended recipients; The term “unauthorized person” means any person who, or agency which, is not authorized to receive information of the categories set forth in subsection (a) of this section, by the President, or by the head of a department or agency of the United States Government which is expressly designated by the President to engage in communication intelligence activities for the United States.

It simply does not get any clearer than this.

The Times and James Risen deliberately broke a law that clearly and specifically outlaws their actions, based only on their informal and unverified opinion that the President was exceeding his authority.

The last time supposedly "classified" information was alleged to have been leaked by members of the administration, the media demanded a special prosecutor. Several prominent media outlets subsequently had to be forced to cooperate with the prosecutor they themselves had demanded.

The media demand to have classified "leaks" investigated and then place themselves above the law when when that investigation requires their cooperation. They chide the President for supposedly ignoring laws passed by Congress, but demand the right to break the law with impugnity.

Yet we're supposed to trust them? Where's the outrage?

Posted by Cassandra at 09:39 AM | Comments (1)

January 30, 2006

The Price Of Security

I'm currently enjoying John Lewis Gaddis' short history of the Cold War, "Surprise, Security, and the American Experience" on the recommendation of a friend. At first blush you might not expect such a book to have much to do with current events but Gaddis begins, strangely enough, with September 11th and ties our reaction to that 'day that will live in infamy' to the one which preceded it: December 7th, 1941.

At any rate, Gaddis explores several ideas that have occupied my mind of late; among them the concept that the means by which we gain security and the measures which tend to make us comfortable morally and ethically are by no means compatible. As the old saying goes, "Desperate times call for desperate measures". My Dad sent me an interesting book review from the WaPo (another book I shall have to order once I finish this and one more I have in the queue): this one written by Rich Lowry. The book in question, The Case for Goliath, was, oddly enough, not written by a conservative; yet it makes the case that the exercise of American power on the global stage is not altogether a bad thing in world affairs:

The Bible story primes us to root for the guy slinging stones at Goliath, rather than the overdog giant. In today's international environment, that is a mistake, according to Mandelbaum. He rejects the label of "empire," the charged term favored by some celebrants and detractors of American power. "The United States," he writes, "does not control, directly or indirectly, the politics and economics of other societies," the classic characteristic of empires. Instead, he argues, "America acts as the world's government." At first blush, government is a more problematic term even than empire. On second blush too.

Mandelbaum acknowledges the rather fundamental objections to this idea of America's role in the world. For starters, government is the tool of a state -- that is, a sovereign entity controlling a given territory -- and the international system has no state. Furthermore, as Mandelbaum himself concedes, "In the society of sovereign states the United States does not have a monopoly of force and does not practice the kind of coercion that domestic governments routinely employ." If there's no state and no monopoly of force, there's not much government either.

What Mandelbaum's argument comes down to is that the United States provides "public goods" -- security, economic stability, etc. -- to the world in much the same way a government provides these things to its citizens. Which is true, as far it goes. But Mandelbaum contrives to fit U.S. behavior into his "government" paradigm in unconvincing ways. War in Europe, he argues, has come to be considered as undesirable as an infectious disease; therefore, in acting to prevent it, the United States has become a kind of "public health service." That's quite a stretch.

But the core of Mandelbaum's case -- that U.S. power is so important to the world that the international order would badly fray without it -- is provocative and valuable, given how pervasive the notion has become at home and abroad that the United States is the world's parasite, or predator, or both. Strained analogies aside, Mandelbaum's analysis is generally sure-footed and often original.

The United States does indeed provide many public goods: "reassurance" to Europe and East Asia, in the form of the U.S. troops and security guarantees that keep countries in these regions from fearing attack by their neighbors; a check against nuclear proliferation, through the U.S. nuclear umbrella extended to other countries and U.S. support for anti-proliferation agreements and organizations; and the security, currency, free trade and consumer demand on which the world's economy depends.

The U.S. global role is buttressed by the international consensus in favor of that Wilsonian triad of peace, democracy and free markets that makes American power -- identified with all three of these values -- welcome in most circumstances. The U.S. government isn't necessarily popular overseas, but neither has it prompted the sort of "political and military combination" that threatened states have formed to oppose other overwhelming powers of the past. This is what checked the hegemonic ambitions of France in the 18th and 19th centuries and those of Germany and the Soviet Union in the 20th. Today, some of the loudest critics of the United States are the same countries that benefit from U.S. public goods, often with no attempt to pay for or otherwise assume their fair share of the burden. Mandelbaum, always temperate, is as scornful as he ever gets about this: "To accept benefits without paying for them and simultaneously to complain about the way they are being provided shades over into hypocrisy." Indeed.

These are important concepts for two reasons: first, it seldom acknowledged these days that the exercise of American power has ultimately been more a stabilizing and positive force than a chaotic and repressive one. And secondly, despite the alarmist cris du coeur of the "free rider" EU states (who are busily dismantling their own militaries wholesale, secure in the knowledge that the United States can be relied upon to provide adult supervision when they squabble, as in Kosovo), America has no imperialist ambitions. Where is our far-flung empire, our vast network of tributary states, our strictly-enforced pax Amerikana? The legacy of so-called American imperialism is easy and the "burden" generally consists of a lucrative influx of foreign aid dollars and a democratic government that is turned back to the people.

Interestingly, the same arguments used to attack the exercise of US power abroad are invoked against security measures on the domestic front. Here again, hyperbole reigns supreme and oversimplified and partisan mischaracterization replaces objective, fact-based analysis of the risks of inaction versus the benefits of various security measures. The NSA surveillance story involved listening to conversations of known terrorists even if they happened to end up talking to parties inside the US, but the media rapidly dubbed it the 'domestic spying' story, as though pre-9/11 anti-terrorism intelligence was so ruthless and efficient that we need to apply the brakes before it overheated and turned America into a police state. To hear various media figures and pundits tell it, our most pressing need in the wake of an attack that killed almost 3000 innocent civilians is to discourage law enforcement from taking too much of an interest in US citizens who receive phone calls from thugs who hijack commuter jets and fly them into buildings, such interest being deemed downright hazardous to our national health.

In that bizarre alchemy that seems to have occurred since the Bush Dynasty "stole" the White House in 2000 over the Al Gore's vociferous protests, FISA, once damned by liberals as a sinister creation of the fascist state, has now inexplicably become the only thing standing between Joe SixPack and the Constitutional Crisis of the Century - lauded by some as inexplicably more important even than the President's Article 2 authority. But as Philip Bobbitt comments, FISA itself is outdated and in need of revision:

IN the debate over whether the National Security Agency's eavesdropping violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, we must not lose sight of the fact that the world we entered on 9/11 will require rewriting that statute and other laws. The tiresome pas de deux between rigid civil libertarians in denial of reality and an overaggressive executive branch seemingly heedless of the law, while comforting to partisans of both groups, is not in the national interest.

Owing to the globalization of telecommunications, many telephone calls between parties in foreign countries or with an American at one end are routed through American networks. By analyzing this traffic, the National Security Agency has been gathering clues to possible terrorist activities.

The N.S.A. is our most important intelligence agency. Typically, about 60 percent of the president's daily brief comes from its intercepts. But the agency was created during the cold war to collect against enemy countries, and that war, indeed that kind of war, has now been superseded. Signals intelligence in the 20th century meant intercepting analog signals along dedicated voice channels, connecting two discrete and known target points. In the 21st century, communications are mostly digital, carry billions of bits of data, are dynamically routed in packets to be reassembled and are globally networked.

Consider that on Sept. 10, 2001, the N.S.A. intercepted two messages: "The match begins tomorrow" and "Tomorrow is zero hour." These were not picked up through surveillance of suspected individuals but from random monitoring of pay phones in areas of Afghanistan where Al Qaeda was active. Not surprisingly, these messages were not translated or disseminated until Sept. 12th.

Nor was the fact that we knew the identities of two of the terrorists sufficient to thwart the attack the next day. But had we at the time cross-referenced credit card accounts, frequent-flyer programs and a cellphone number shared by those two men, data mining might easily have picked up on the 17 other men linked to them and flying on the same day at the same time on four flights. Such intelligence collection would not have been based on probable cause, and yet the presence of the hijackers in the country would have qualified them as "U.S. persons."

Clearly, "random" information is likely to be useless when it is not linked to surveillance focused on an individual, while that focused intelligence is much less useful when it is not linked to data mining collected in broad surveillance of "U.S. persons."

If we agree that the National Security Agency now needs to trace and analyze large volumes of phone and Internet traffic looking for particular patterns and to cross-reference leads, then it seems clear that traditional, specific warrants may sometimes not be appropriate.

Furthermore, not only are there presumably conspirators within the United States, but conversations between two foreign persons could be routed, via the Internet, through American switches to give the appearance of a domestic-to-international connection. It is difficult to imagine getting warrants now in such situations, because the standard of probable cause to conclude that the target is a terrorist cannot be met.

Indeed, trying to determine just who qualifies as a terrorist agent is the point of the unfocused cross-hatching collection work of the security agency. In such a world, we will need new techniques to protect the identities and privacy of innocent people here and abroad.

The author makes the point, several times, that the traditional standard for getting a warrant: probable cause, CANNOT BE MET and most likely is not appropriate in the case of random monitoring of this type.

And it is very important to understand why warrants were traditionally required at law. They were required because evidence seized could be used in a court of law to deprive a person of their liberty or property. There is a critical distinction between surveilling in order to stop an activity and surveilling in order to gather evidence to be used in a criminal prosecution.

In the military, search and seizure is commonly allowed in several circumstances, provided that the materials seized cannot be used in court. The purpose of the search is to stop or discourage an illegal activity rather than to gather evidence, and so greater leeway is afforded the authorities. The same standard is reasonable here, and moreover we need to be fairly reasonable regarding what is known as "fruit of the poisoned tree" evidence. For instance, if by means of a warrantlessly taped conversation we apprehend parties in the act of committing a terrorist act, we don't want to extend the chain of causality so far backwards that we invalidate subsequent evidence simply because the initial tip-off was obtained without a warrant.

There is such a thing as cutting your nose off to spite your face, and Americans are in danger of doing this with warrantless wiretapping. Too many of our politicians conveniently overlook past abuses like Clinton's warrantless physical searches of public housing residents to declaim violently over far less intrusive random monitoring of known terrorists just because they incidentally involve parties in the United States. One wonders what other kind of surveillance of our country's enemies they would expect to "waive off" just because a U.S. citizen happened to step into the picture?

The painting of our government as an enemy worse than al Qaeda and possible (but so-far non-existent and hypothetical) abuses as far worse than the very real attack we suffered on September 11th is not only not grounded in reality but actively counter to our (and the world's) best interests. Though some politicians in Congress like to paint every American foreign policy initiative as a brutal hegemonistic thrust at the heart of world peace, the truth is far more nuanced, as John Kerry would say, than that. The world is full of brutal dictators and spineless politicians who find it convenient to appease them. And despite the barbs of our critics, al Qaeda will not start strapping daisies to their vests instead of bombs if we retreat into some sort of 21st Century Jeffersonian isolationism. Throwing roses at our enemies has never been taken for anything except an admission of cowardice: anyone who doubts that need only listen to the words of Osama bin Laden, who was not appeased by Clinton's withdrawal in the nineties but only emboldened by it:

... when tens of your solders were killed in minor battles and one American Pilot was dragged in the streets of Mogadishu you left the area carrying disappointment, humiliation, defeat and your dead with you. Clinton appeared in front of the whole world threatening and promising revenge, but these threats were merely a preparation for withdrawal. You have been disgraced by Allah and you withdrew; the extent of your impotence and weaknesses became very clear. It was a pleasure for the "heart" of every Muslim and a remedy to the "chests" of believing nations to see you defeated in the three Islamic cities of Beirut, Aden and Mogadishu.

We are constantly in danger of forgetting the lessons of our own history. Awash in the flood tide of the 24/7 news cycle, we become blinded to our own place in history and are all too often unduly disconcerted by what are only really repeating patterns, like ripples in the sand of history; only we, unconscious of the larger patterns, see the instantaneous ripple and think it a brand new mountain - something never before seen: unprecedented. One of my favorite anecdotes in the Gaddis book occurs in a Texas classroom where he's watching another tutor lecture about the Mexican War. A student asked the Professor (Samuel Flagg Bemis) whether the Mexican War had not been an atrocious act of aggression by the United States:

"Yes", Bemis acknowledged with unexpected mildness, "it certainly had." Then he added, much more emphatically, with the sweep of an arm that seemed to encompass, not just the entire classroom, but the entire university, indeed the entire state: "But you wouldn't want to give it all back, would you?"

Gaddis goes on to say that most of us would probably answer, "No, we wouldn't want to give it all back". He comments:

All of which suggests a disconnect in our thinking between the security to which we've become accustomed and the means by which we obtained it. We've tended in recent years to condemn the methods even as we've continued to enjoy - and now seek to extend - the benefits. Can we have it both ways? Well, maybe: F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote that the sign of a first-rate mind is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in one's mind at the same time. but the essays in which he made this observation were entitled, rather discouragingly, The Crack-Up.

The better approach, I think, is to acknowledge the moral ambiguity of our history. Like most other nations, we got to where we are by means that we cannot, today, in their entirety, comfortably endorse. Comfort alone, however cannot be the criterion by which a nation shapes its strategy and secures its safety. The means of confronting danger do not disqualify themselves from consideration solely on the basis of the uneasiness they produce. Before we too quickly condemn our how our ancestors dealt with such problems, therefore, we might well ask ourselves two questions, both of which follow from the one I heard Bemis ask four decades ago:

What would we have done had we been in their place then?

And, even scarier, how comfortable will our descendants be with the choices we make today?

All of which, perhaps, can be summed up in an old maxim: the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. Perhaps the maintanence of our freedoms requires that we skirt the edge of things that make us, as ethical and moral beings, profoundly uncomfortable. But if we, as John Adams once said, go not abroad in search of monsters to destroy, the price is perhaps that we must do what is needed and yet be eternally watchful that we do not become that which we most fear.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:26 AM | Comments (1)

January 19, 2006

American Dummitude: The End Of Western Civilization?

On a brilliant September morning in 2001, four planes hurtled out of an azure sky and caused the world to tilt on its axis. The shock of their impact is still felt halfway around the globe.

It has become fashionable (or perhaps merely convenient) to forget the unity America displayed in those early days. But when George Bush stood atop that pile of smoking rubble and vowed the terrorists would shortly hear from us, he had the backing of both parties in Congress. The Patriot Act passed 357–66 in the House and 98–1 in the Senate.

The Joint Authorization to Use Force passed 77-23.

And then the Great Unravelling began. In that strange alchemy peculiar to comfortable societies, the anxiety of those hushed September days was soon replaced by another fear. The real enemy, you see, was never Osama bin Laden. It wasn't radical Islamism, or terrorism, which all right-thinking people know is the only response available to impoverished, poorly-educated young Arab men who rightly resent U.S. meddling in their little corner of the world. That this theory is patently false does not matter. It is so comforting, you see. It takes a complex problem requiring risky action and makes it simple. If we just retreat and place our heads firmly in the sand, the sun will shine once more.

No need to take a stand. No troublesome idealism. No chance for further loss of life.

Never mind that Saddam had pledged to destroy us (and Israel, for that matter). No matter that he twice invaded his neighbors; twice used WMDs. Ignore the numerous contradictions to claims his aggressiveness was contained by 12 years of UN sanctions: the 1993 assassination attempt on Bush I in Kuwait, his complicity in the 1993 attack on the WTC, his continued, open sponsorship of known terrorists (including Abu Nidal, who killed several Americans), Oil-for-Terror. All accomplished under the comforting auspices of international consensus. Right under our noses.

Through the weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth, amid anguished cries of “Why do they hate us?” and calls to establish a dialogue with the terrorists, George Bush strode like a colossus. Unshakable in his resolve, he single-handedly steered a course for the future; assembling a coalition of western nations against the crescent moon rising in the east, going to the United Nations and wresting a unanimous resolution against Hussein’s regime that, sadly, turned out not to be worth the paper it was written on. Even most of his enemies now grant it was his finest moment. But in standing tall, he had broken the cardinal rule in Washington: never take an unequivocal stand. He handed his opponents the knife they would later use against him. For the true Enemy was now revealed: it was not the terrorists who threatened America.

It was George Bush.

hi015.gif We all know what happens to giants. They must be brought down. The threat they pose is obvious; they are a mirror in which our own images are dimly reflected, and we do not much care for what we see reflected there. We feel rather small and mean by comparison.

One of the most fascinating things to fall out of the global war on terrorism has been the impulse of Western Civilization to go picnicking on itself: the endless carping, the analysis of a never-ending parade of “experts”, each of whom has a better idea for how things should have been done, the us-vs-them comparisons, the self-indulgent navel gazing of pundits with far too much time on their hands. Like our European brethren across the pond, America seems to be acquiring an endless appetite for the kind of pointless angst that can only end in moral paralysis.

What seems in increasingly short supply is resolve.

Strange, then, that with all the comparisons of western to Muslim society, I have not seen this point made. It came to me last weekend like a thunderbolt. We are locked, West and East, in a titanic battle. Two diametrically-opposed societies, one shuttered; to our way of thinking mired in the past, hedged about with rules and restrictions on behavior that are unthinkable to those used to the almost unlimited freedom we enjoy here in the West. And we are an open society with all the ills that entails. Casual sex and profanity, drugs and unwed mothers abound, divorce and AIDS are endemic; but also women go to college and gays are not stoned in the streets. Speech is protected and elections are free. Businesses prosper and the Third World clamors at our borders, eager to share in the almost obscene abundance.

Mirror images. We hasten to condemn the East. We deplore the log in our brother’s eye, yet leap over the looming beam in our own. The Muslim world has been rightly condemned for its intolerance, and nowhere is this clearer than in the practice of Dhimmitude:

Dhimmitude is the status that Islamic law, the Sharia, mandates for non-Muslims, primarily Jews and Christians. Dhimmis, "protected people," are free to practice their religion in a Sharia regime, but are made subject to a number of humiliating regulations designed to enforce the Qur'an's command that they "feel themselves subdued".

The West has its cross to bear; its own brand of intolerance. Only the targets we single out for “chastened subservience” are not the weak but the strong; whether by force of personality, intellect, or numbers. This uniquely democratic version of intolerance can only exist in a free society where the the irrational voice of the minority can be brought to bear against the majority, delegitimizing (in retrospect) decisions made legitimately, endlessly questioning every foreign policy decision, every vote of Congress, every election, every move made by those in power. This foolish and destructive form of intolerance is no less corrosive than the Dhimmitude of the Muslim world; for it chokes off honest debate, encourages secrecy where there should be openness, and discourages the kind of visionary leadership that made America a great nation.

Great ideas, by their very nature, arouse opposition. The Muslim world shows the harsh face of intolerance to outsiders (Dhimmitude). They are not among the faithful. The right-thinkers. The chosen of Allah. In the judgment of righteous Muslims, they deserve the treatment they receive.

In our zeal to avoid the mistakes of the East, we bend over backwards to keep 'open minds'. Religion is the root of all Evil, we think. Religion, and Authority: how we love to question them. And so we view those in power: leaders, or even the simple majority among us who still believe in a Creator - the ultimate insiders - with suspicion. They too, in our estimation, merit whatever ill treatment they receive at the hands of the madding crowd. Or at the least, we sanction the kind of intolerance against them that would be unacceptable if used against a "weaker" opponent. Their status is viewed as some sort of offense against perfect egalitarianism. But is this wise?

Western society's great weakness is that we, whether through over-sensitivity, a desire to be "fair", or sheer complacency, turn a blind eye as vocal and disaffected minorities practice intolerance (ostensibly the one unpardonable sin of Western society) towards the most able among us, forgetting that from religion (our Judeo-Christian heritage, to be exact) came the very freedoms we enjoy today. This results, at times, in a virtual tyranny of the minority that is the very opposite of democracy. We allow a vocal minority to actively subvert the segment of our society that chooses and makes up our government and determines the course this nation takes.

It is hard to imagine behavior more antithetical to western values or more likely to result, ultimately, in the death of the freedoms we hold dear and the destruction of western society. I call this phenomenon, Dummitude.

The advocates of Dummitude are everywhere: in our public schools, in Congress, on the Internet. Their goal is to gain through constant carping and criticism what they cannot at the ballot box. Ostensibly preaching openness, choice, and tolerance, they aim to impose a cramping conformity of thought and uniformity of ideology. "Tolerance", "inclusiveness", and moral purity are their weapons; these concepts are ironically used to enforce ends diametrically opposed to the means.

In the public school arena, school vouchers must be eliminated because they might give some children a better chance to succeed than others and we don’t want our tax dollars promoting too much success in America, do we? Success is so inherently undemocratic. It isn't inclusive enough. If everyone can’t succeed in life, it’s better to level the playing field – even if in so doing we manage to level a few of the players. That they are being intolerant of those who wish to succeed (or depriving them of choices) doesn't seem to occur to the Dummitudinous.

But the relentless ankle-biting doesn’t end there. Perhaps the defining feature of Dummitude is the “zero tolerance” mentality that makes it so easy to criticize authority. No course of action is proof against this unrealistic standard, as Michael Kinsley observes:

Most of us are not Patrick Henry and would be willing to lose a great deal of freedom in order to save our lives. This is especially true when the freedom in question is that of foreigners with funny names, but it is true of our own freedom as well. It's not even necessarily deplorable. Giving up a certain amount of freedom in exchange for the safety and comfort of civilized society is what government is all about, according to guys like Hobbes and Locke, who influenced the Founding Fathers. And that's good government. Many people live under bad governments that take away more freedom than necessary and choose not to become heroes. That is not a contemptible choice, especially if we're talking France, or maybe even China, and not Stalin's Russia or Hitler's Germany. The notion that freedom is indivisible—if you lose a little, you have lost it all; if one person is deprived of liberty, then we all are—is sweet, and useful for indoctrinating children. But it just isn't true.

The current debate about government wiretapping of U.S. citizens inside the United States as part of the war on terrorism, like the debate before it about the torture of terror suspects, and the debate before that one about U.S. government prison camps at Guantanamo and in Eastern Europe, are all framed as arguments about the divisibility of freedom. They are framed that way by the good guys—meaning, of course, the side I agree with, which is the side of the civil libertarians who oppose these measures. That is part of why the good guys are losing. The arguments all seem to pit hard practicality on one side against sentiment, if not empty sentimentality, on the other. There are the folks who are fighting a war to protect us from a terrible enemy, and there are the folks getting in their way with a lot of fruity abstractions. You can note all you want the irony of the government trampling American values in the name of protecting them (yes, yes, like destroying that village in Vietnam in order to save it). The hard men and hard woman who are prosecuting this war for the Bush administration can turn that point, rather effectively, on its head. If the cost of losing the war and the cost of winning it are both measured in the same currency—American values, especially freedom—then giving up some freedom in order to avoid losing all of it is obviously the right thing to do.


But for the advocates of Dummitude, the baby is always thrown out with the bathwater. If we can't have all our freedoms, life (apparently) is no longer worth living. The random thought that an evening of rousing phone conversation with Abu Musab al Zarqawi (sans NSA wiretaps) is of little value to a smoking corpse never quite seems to enter the mind of the moral absolutist.

Likewise, in the the bizarre value system of the Dummitudinous, Abu Ghuraib and rumors of hidden CIA detention camps outweigh millions of Arab purple fingers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis buried in mass graves. The democratic stirrings in Lebanon and Egypt do not signify. No rational cost/benefit analysis informs their moral calculus: America cannot make a single mistake or all the good we have done is wiped out.

In an even more tenuous argument, the war itself was justified but since the administration failed to foresee every contingency that ensued, “poor management” has now caused those who formerly supported it to withdraw their support.

When in all of history was a war perfectly prosecuted? By the argument of the Dummitudinous, World Wars I and II were morally bankrupt conflicts. The internment of German and Japanese citizens by FDR delegitimized our participation in WWII. If only we had allowed Hitler to exterminate those annoying Jews – just think of all the trouble we could have avoided! No Israel. No MidEast crisis with the Palestinians. In retrospect, the Dummitudinous were right. No price was too great to pay (so long as others were led to the ovens) so long as our hands remained clean.

And if the internment camps weren't enough, the slaughter that was D-Day surely invalidated that war as well. Talk about your debacles. Was victory “worth” it? Why were we even in Europe anyway? It was the Japanese who attacked us, not the Germans. Why didn’t we go after Tojo instead of Hitler?

But Dummitude cannot accept imperfection, even in a messy business like war. It cannot accept even limited casualties in a limited war. Enter Hillary Clinton, who is outraged that our fighting men are not outfitted like Imperial Stormtroopers in the 125 degree heat of the Arabian desert. How many soldiers did she ask before she charged up Capitol Hill, alone and without a clue?

Most studies recommend that a soldier should not be burdened with more than one-third of his body weight. But if you take a 160-pound soldier and put 40 pounds of Kevlar and body armor on him and then he picks up an automatic weapon, ammunition, water and first aid equipment, it's not long before he is carrying half his body weight - and he is then expected to run, jump and fight insurgents, themselves carrying little more than a 10-pound AK-47. All of this, of course, often takes place in 120-degree heat in the cities of Iraq.

Lost among the politicians' cries for more extensive armor for the troops is the fact that most soldiers, in my experience and based on discussions with many, feel they have enough armor already - and many feel they are increasingly being burdened with too much equipment. And the new supplementary body armor unveiled this week in Washington doubles the weight of the equipment - worn over the torso and, now, the upper arms - to 32 pounds from 16 pounds (for a medium-sized soldier).

While an Army spokesman said yesterday that the new equipment was developed based on feedback from units in the field - and certainly, he assured me, not from any political pressure - the statements from soldiers in Iraq tell a different story.

An article last week from The Associated Press noted that "soldiers in the field were not all supportive of a Pentagon study that found improved body armor saves lives" and that some argued "that more armor would hinder combat effectiveness."

As an Army captain told The A.P.: "You've got to sacrifice some protection for mobility. If you cover your entire body in ceramic plates, you're just not going to be able to move."


But you see, the debate isn't about what's sensible or practical. It's about having a war with zero mistakes. Zero casualties. A perfect war where no one is ever sad, the sun shines every day, and all our soldiers are above-average. That kind of war doesn't exist. But you see Hillary really cares about our troops, unlike George Bush.

There's just one problem with this type of thinking. Like the overprotective mother who won't let her child go outside until he's wrapped in twelve layers of clothing, all this overprotection is not just confining. It's downright immobilizing. Like the soldier weighed down by 40 extra pounds of body armor or the world leader whose decisions aren't viewed as "legitimate" unless he has unanimous international consensus, bilateral agreement in Congress, and 90 percent public approval ratings from the American people, the end product is either paralysis or a watered-down course of action that, by offending no one, just defers pressing problems to future generations.

As we in the West obsess over hurt feelings and natter on about the loss of the smallest part of our precious liberties, our enemies display no such lack of resolve:

Al Qaeda thrived in Afghanistan when the Taliban leader, Mohammad Omar, was called "Commander of the Faithful," a caliphic title. In his book published online shortly after Sept. 11, bin Laden's deputy, Ayman Zawahiri, declared that terror attacks would "be nothing more than disturbing acts, regardless of their magnitude" unless they led to a caliphate in the "heart of the Islamic world."
The advocates of Dummitude seem determined to impose their will on America by fomenting dissention and unrest. In this, they are fulfilling al Qaeda's grand strategy to "vex and annoy" western society, which they view as weak and incapable of sustaining resolve.

If we had any shame, the words of Osama bin Laden would still be ringing in our ears:

... when tens of your solders were killed in minor battles and one American Pilot was dragged in the streets of Mogadishu you left the area carrying disappointment, humiliation, defeat and your dead with you. Clinton appeared in front of the whole world threatening and promising revenge, but these threats were merely a preparation for withdrawal.

You have been disgraced by Allah and you withdrew; the extent of your impotence and weaknesses became very clear. It was a pleasure for the "heart" of every Muslim and a remedy to the "chests" of believing nations to see you defeated in the three Islamic cities of Beirut, Aden and Mogadishu.


Looking at the recent words of Senators Murtha, Kerry, Kennedy, and Pelosi, it would appear the enemy knows us better than we know ourselves. In the 1990's we recognized the threat Iraq posed to our security. Having passed a law in 1998 calling for regime change, we took no steps to make that resolve a reality.

Even today, the Dummitudinous among us continue to argue that the war in Iraq diverts our attention from the looming threat in Iran. What in our history suggests we could summon the national will to take decisive action against Iran:

It's easy to forget that the resolution authorizing force to kick Saddam out of Kuwait barely passed Congress. It's easy to forget that Iraq had passed frequent International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections designed to ensure its compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) or that its Manhattan Project-sized nuclear program went undetected by US intelligence. It's also easy to forget just how skilled Saddam became at deception post-Osirak.

Despite repeated warnings and Saddam’s own public statements, Western experts consistently underestimated Iraq’s scientific and technical capabilities. Inspection officials now believe Iraq was only 12 to 18 months from producing its first bomb, not five to 10 years as previously thought.

Iraq invaded another country and we barely summoned the votes to respond. The Senate unanimously passed a bipartisan-authored law resolving that Saddam needed to go in 1998, yet Democrats are still arguing over whether deposing him was "the right thing to do".

Iran has not invaded any of its neighbors. It has not tried to assassinate one of our Presidents. It has not abetted a terrorist attack on our soil. It has not used WMDs. It does not have a 12-year history of violating UN sanctions. Yet the Dummitudinous somehow argue the Iraq war is 'diverting valuable resources' away from the Iranian threat (the exact same threat that Iraq posed for over twelve years, yet we did not attack Iraq solely based on the threat of nuclear weapons). What resources?

In what universe do they think we would ever summon the will to respond militarily to Iran? In the unlikely event we did manage to achieve consensus on such a momentous decision, the Dummitudinous would be the first to begin unravelling it at the corners.

Dummitude will be the ruin of us yet. The good news is that our feelings will be safe, right up until the very end.

Posted by Cassandra at 02:21 PM | Comments (30)

October 04, 2005

Plame, Wilson, And Miller: The Wrong Conspiracy?

Clarice Feldman asks some interesting questions about the Judy Miller story. A long time ago I half-jokingly threw out the possibility that Miller (remember her WMD reporting?) could well have become aware of Plame's identity on her own through CIA contacts. This theory seems even more likely when you consider that Plame's identity seems to have been common knowledge among the media. Feldman elaborates on the CIA connection:

I see a bigger picture in the background, involving the CIA and conduct of the war in Iraq. I am persuaded that the CIA counter-proliferation group was incompetent, and actively involved in undermining the President's war on Iraq, working with the Kerry campaign, tacitly or not. I draw this conclusion partly from the fact that although Congress had long made regime change in Iraq a national policy, when we needed actionable intelligence we seemed to have little of value in our files at Langley; and also from the fact that throughout the runup to the war to the present, the press has been full of leaks sourced to unnamed CIA officers countering the Administration and those leaks were often – though not exclusively – related to counter-proliferation issues.

But nothing persuades me more of this than the factual record of the Wilson-Plame story. And it is my hope that this opportunity fully to investigate what happened in that office has been taken by the Special Prosecutor and his investigation will not conclude without shedding light on this apparent perfidy.

I have reviewed all the material I can find on this case, and I return to these mysteries:

(1) Why was Wilson, with no particular knowledge or qualifications, given this task by his wife's office?
(2)Why did he deny his wife had recommended him for that job and why did his wife, knowing from the outset of this matter that this was an issue, say to the Senate Intel Committee she no longer remembered how he'd been selected?(
3) Didn't the Committee discredit both of them when they said she was the moving force in his selection?
(4)Why was Wilson's report made orally?
(5) Why was he not made to sign an oath of confidentiality respecting this work?
(6) Why did Plame's counterproliferation office not disclose his report to the CIA head Tenet, so that when he vetted the Administration's evidentiary arguments for the war, he would have had that information?
(7) Why was Wilson given classified information months after his report about the forged documents on Niger ,which the Senate Intel committee found he could not have known about when he did his mission?
(8)And why did he lie after this point was made, and say he might have been confused when he claimed to have had seen it when he said he had?
(9)And where else would he have gotten that classified information, if not from his wife?

I became curious about this after reading this WaPo story over the weekend. Like most WaPo coverage of the Wilson-Plame affair, it completely glosses over the Senate Select Intelligence Committee's finding that Wilson lied - about several things. As usual, my head almost exploded on reading it. I was intrigued at Walter Pincus' peevishness - I have long wondered why he is so insistently and completely biased in his reporting of this matter. The SSCI finding on Wilson's allegations is a material fact with direct bearing on the story. Not to mention it - consistently and repeatedly, as Pincus invariably does - in a story like this this is tantamount to professional malpractice, yet the Post continues to allow him, and other reporters, to get away with it.

Feldman offers a clue, via Ed Morrissey, as to Pincus' motivation, as well as that of the NY Times, another serial offender on Wilson-Plame reporting:

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence reached that conclusion in its report on Iraq War intelligence, and names Pincus himself as one of the dupes Wilson used to get out his misinformation. Why didn't Pincus bother to mention that? And why isn't Fitzgerald investigating Wilson and Plame for those leaks (the other dupe was NY Times Nicholas Kristof) for a possible CIA conspiracy to illegally undermine the foreign policy of the duly elected American government? The Post also claims that the Niger intelligence "was central to the White House's rationale for war," when plainly it was not. The vast majority of the intelligence from most Western nations had concluded that Saddam still had WMD, and that his lack of compliance with the sixteen UN resolutions on full, verifiable, and permanent disarmament demonstrated that he still retained that capability. Moreover, the trip that Wilson took actually corroborated that conclusion, as the prime minister of Niger told Wilson that the only purpose of a secret Iraqi delegation he could divine was to trade for yellowcake uranium -- which Wilson admitted to the SSCI bolstered, not undermined, the case for war against Iraq.

I find it little short of amazing that with all the conspiracy theorists and the After Downing Street-type groups out there, we may have a genuine conspiracy on our hands and no one is interesting in investigating it.

We have a reporter (Judy Miller) with a history of blowing federal investigations, who may well herself have been the source of the "leak" the administration's enemies are trying to use as a weapon against it.

We have an admittedly anti-administration CIA official who got her own husband a sweetheart deal on a trip to Niger where he (surprise!) didn't have to sign any confidentiality agreements (or worse, signed one and then violated it) and subsequently blabbed everything he "learned" to the NY Times. Great hiring recommendation from the "covert agent" - you have to love the sensitive handling of information here. It has all the hallmarks of the career spy, doesn't it?

Tradecraft...pure tradecraft. When someone is this inept, it begins to look deliberate.

We have a former ambassador who was then discredited for lying (to the NY Times) about "what he learned" while on that same trip. Again - great choice Valerie. For all the noise made about how she "can never work undercover again", honestly: who would ever trust her judgment after she recommended her husband for a sensitive operation, after which he blabbed a bunch of lies to the NY Times and was subsequently investigated and discredited by the Senate?

Personally, I'd say her career should have been over, regardless. But it will all have been worth it if Judy gets her book deal. (h/t spd)

We'll keep our fingers crossed.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:53 AM | Comments (35) | TrackBack

September 25, 2005

Peace With Honor

PH2005092401737.jpg They gather on the Mall in their thousands, earnest, outraged, fired up. All the old players are there, and some new players too: a mingling of new and old mantras, yesterday and today blended artfully together in a pastiche meant to evoke the powerful specter of Iraq-as-Vietnam:

Backstage, and onstage, it was a reunion for aging activists. There was Jesse Jackson, threading a mike up through his leisure suit and talking about how Cindy Sheehan, the mother who lost a son to Iraq, was the Rosa Parks of this generation. Al Sharpton roaring his rage into the mike. There was politico Julian Bond and comic rebel Dick Gregory. Country crooner Steve Earle strumming his guitar and singing about the CIA and "living in the [expletive expletive] U.S.A."

Rep. Maxine Waters kicked things off with some fighting words:

"I am a member of Congress. And I. Am. Sick. And. Tired. Of. George. W. Bush."

The crowd let it be known -- loudly -- that it, too, was sick and tired.

"This gives me flash-forwards," not flashbacks, Baez said, looking lean and sinewy in a tank top and jeans, her cropped hair streaked with silver.

Back in the day, the 64-year-old singer said, she provided a spark for those who wanted to end the war in Vietnam. It wasn't her place to provide that spark now, she said, someone else had to do it. Michael Moore started it with "Fahrenheit 9/11," and Sheehan fanned the flames. Now, she said, people were rallying.

The concert was a place to start, she said, but not a place to end.

"Music is wonderful, but you've got to involve risk." Artists have to be willing to put themselves on the line.

"With Live 8," she said, "the only risk was not being invited. This involves risk."

Risk.

The irony hangs heavy in the air but Baez, surrounded by an impenetrable force field of smug self-satisfaction, long ago lost the capacity for detecting such nuances. She is a Serious Activist, trained in a hard school where those who Speak Truth To Power were once hosed down or tear-gassed by National Guard troops and carted off by baton-wielding policemen for the crime of opposing a fascist government intent on eating its own young. That there are, on this day, no troops in sight - no evidence of John Ashcroft's much-ballyhoo'd Police State has evidently escaped her notice.

It's not much fun Protesting against the Man if you can't complain about risk. The saintly example of Mother Sheehan, hauled away in leg chains and stuffed into an airless cell in Guantanamo Bay, animates these brave patriots. It is all they have left.

For they have a mission. They want to bring the troops home. Too many, they say, have died. Iraq is another Vietnam, they say. Well, with one or two minor exceptions:

"Iraq is just like Vietnam except: We occupy Hanoi. We've captured Ho Chi Minh. The North Vietnamese have just held a free and democratic election. The North Vietnamese are working on a new constitution."

But it's not too late to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The important thing to remember is that They Support The Troops. The all-volunteer armed forces who, rather disturbingly, signed up to be there (as opposed to the conscripted force we had in Vietnam). The all-volunteer force who have been re-enlisting in record numbers despite a relentless media campaign to convince the American public that we are losing this war. The all-volunteer force who continue to remain positive supporters of the President and the war effort, and critical of the media and those members of Congress who have done their best to undermine what they are trying to accomplish.

But it is their right, in a free and democratic society, to try and overturn the results of democratic elections by making noise in public places. This is called "freedom". If one cannot obtain the desired results at the ballot box, one organizes marches on Washington and shouts into the air with megaphones. And hopefully, the noise will travel halfway around the world to Baghdad, where the troops will know that these good-hearted people support them by trying to undo all they have worked so hard to accomplish.

Just think how that knowledge will comfort them in their darkest moments:

What will we do when the crucible finds us?

What will we do when the arc of an ordinary life intersects with some unimaginable moment of trial, some circumstance so beyond anticipating that to prepare is all but impossible?

What will we do when to sacrifice may mean to sacrifice all?
Ordinary people, ordinary lives until the moment found them made of steel.

It is of such ordinary people that armies are made. From the cities and the farms, the factories and fields come the men who make an army, and as they pour themselves into warfare, they know of all occupations it is the bearing of arms that is most likely to put them at some fateful intersection.

That in itself, of course, is no sure thing. To slip into uniform is no guarantee the moment will ever come. You could wind up slinging hash in the mess hall or filing forms at headquarters and never hear a rifle crack.

And to take it further, even those who go to battle may escape the hour of test. Events beyond their control may swirl around them, the lines may advance and falter, the tides may surge and ebb, and all the soldiers can do, the best they can do, is follow orders, ride it out and try to make it home.

But in the wild randomness of combat, amid the flames and screams and smoke and blood, the swirling tides will pitch the occasional man into a circumstance so daunting that to shrink back - or succumb to normal fear, normal caution and, yes, to save one's hide - would be the cause of no valid criticism.

It is for those moments, and for those who do not so succumb, that the United States of America has created the Medal of Honor.

Each of those men and women once willingly signed their names on the dotted line and in so doing committed their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to the defense of this nation and to the furtherance of her foreign policy. They did so because they believed in the principles on which this country was founded.

They believe in democracy. They believe freedom is so important that it is worth fighting for - even worth dying for. And they are willing to put their lives on the line to further the interests of the United States of America.

They are not naive. They realize that sometimes nations go to war for reasons not wholly idealistic. They ask only one thing in return for the gift of their lives: for God's sake make it mean something. Do not let this have been in vain.

Across town, a different kind of gathering is taking place. At long last, a grateful nation is rewarding Cpl. Tibor Rubin of Garden Grove, California for extraordinary heroism in Korea from 1950 to 1953:

Rubin served as a rifleman with the 1st Cavalry Division and during numerous battles engaged the enemy and tended to the wounded with "careless disregard for his own safety."

In one battle, he single-handedly defended a hill, inflicting a staggering number of casualties, slowing the enemy advance, allowing the 8th Cavalry Regiment to withdraw. He was later wounded and captured by the Chinese. He spent 30 months as a prisoner of war, risking his life to keep his fellow soldiers alive by providing medical care and stealing food from the enemy.

A crucible is always out there, pitiless and cruel, for some soldier, somewhere.

Were the world suddenly to become sane, were the nations to lay down arms, were religious militants to recognize that worship involves self-sacrifice rather than the wanton murder of others, were we to supplant all our rivalries and all our -isms with a logical recognition of our human commonality, were those things suddenly to happen the crucible would pass into history, and history would record that Tibor Rubin had become the very last Medal of Honor recipient.

That would be, as we so tritely say these days, a good thing.

To know that the circumstances that thrust ordinary men into moments of such wild danger and terror were forever gone, that the dark impulses from which conflict springs had been at last effaced, that this evil would never again imperil the human family - wouldn't that be the day?

The hope is old, of course, and so far unfulfilled. It is at least as old as Isaiah, who wrote of swords becoming plowshares and spears pruning hooks. Instead, our swords have become atomic bombs and our spears a cloud of poison gas.

Until that is reversed, until the evil subsides, young men will flow to the battlefields, into the crucible. To fight for the right as they know it. To live or to die. And each, by risking all on the razor's edge between existence and the void, demands far better of the world that put them there.

But we are not there yet, and until we are the question remains: how will we "support" those men and women who volunteer to put their lives on the line for us? Who still believe in this 200 year old "experiment" we call Democracy?

Will we "support" them by allowing a discontented minority who were unable to win an election to override the votes of the majority and pressure Congress into pulling us out of Iraq? That will, truly, turn Iraq into Vietnam. And with what result? Niall Ferguson comments:

Is it time, then, for the Americans to revive their tried-and-tested policy of proclaiming victory and getting the hell out? I suspect many readers - not least those with sons, brothers or husbands in the services - fervently wish that they would, preferably preceded by us.

And yet, as Kipling so well understood, there are worse things than trying, however imperfectly, to police a foreign land. (Having spent last week in Cambodia, I have just been forcefully reminded of the horrors that befell Indo-China after the Americans abandoned South Vietnam.)

The kind of violence that we could see in Iraq if we quit now, leaving full-scale civil war to rage, would dwarf all that has happened since 2003. I once asked a friend in Beirut what he thought would end up happening in Iraq. "Like Lebanon in the 1980s," he replied, "but to the power of ten."

Nor is there any guarantee that it would remain a civil war. Last week, the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, issued a chilling warning to the Bush administration that Iraq was on the point of falling apart. His fear is that this could "bring other countries in the region into the conflict".

By comparison with that scenario, what happened last week in Basra really was - in another time-honoured phrase of British imperialism - just "a little local difficulty".

The anti-war Left has told us over and over that Iraq is a quagmire: another Vietnam. It is not, of course. The differences are numerous and striking, but the unpalatable truth is that they long to make it one. And the old adage, "Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it" may well come true once again; for if we withdraw too soon from Iraq, we betray not only the Iraqis, but 150,000 men and women who have served bravely, believing that their service actually stood for something.

Believing that America meant what she said.

How sad for them to find out that the country they believed in with all their hearts is but a paper tiger: a nation of videots whose attention span lasts no longer than the next episode of Survivor Vanuatu?

That we sent them into danger and bloodshed and toil on a fool's errand and then, losing interest, said, "Oh... nevermind. This isn't really all that important after all."

Perhaps you can look that young graduate stepping off the parade ground in the eye after we make it clear what he has just signed up to serve: a nation that doesn't honor its commitments. A nation that will ask him and his friends to die for causes it does not really believe in.

I know I can't.

Posted by Cassandra at 10:48 AM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

September 18, 2005

Joe Biden Is Worried...

Well that just about tears it. I really don't see how any responsible world leader can ignore a warning of this gravity:

The Bush administration's mishandling of Iraq has brought us to the brink of a national security debacle. To salvage the situation, the administration must fundamentally change course inside Iraq, in the region and at the international level.

Stabilizing Iraq is a political as well as a military challenge. The administration is taking a huge gamble by going forward with a referendum for a constitution that is more likely to divide Iraq than to unite it.

A majority of Sunni Arabs are likely to vote against the constitution, but not the two-thirds needed to defeat it. That will further embitter them.

This argument should, perhaps, not surprise us coming from a Democratic Senator. This is, after all, the same party that's been trying to work out how they can overturn this troublesome process called representative government since November. The theory being that if the minority cannot get their way, they are entitled to feel "embittered" against the process. Seeing the undoubted attractions of this idea doesn't stop one from instinctively loathing it.

There must, you see, be something wrong with the whole process, because the Right Side didn't win. Not only that, but the Wrong Side now controls all three branches of government. This is, we are solemnly informed, de facto evidence of some sinister plot.

A sinister plot called Democracy, whereby the people get to vote for the representatives of their choice and, in turn, their duly-elected President appoints a Cabinet and members of the judiciary. Politics being, in the end, a numbers game, if the people elect more conservative than liberal Presidents over time, the Courts inevitably come to reflect the will of the people as well. The fact that "We, the People" seem blithely unconcerned about this horrid imbalance of power is due, no doubt, both to the obstructionist efforts of the loyal opposition and to the centrist nature of both parties in their modern-day incarnations. But this comforting thought never seems to occur to the conspiracy theorists - they're far too busy trying to figure out how to vest supreme and unbridled power in the hands of nine unelected and completely unaccountable jurists so they can restore a more proper sense of "balance" to the Force.

Since civics is no longer taught in our public schools, We the People are fortunate to have civil servants who double as civics teachers. Without Senator Biden's helpful commentary, we might be tempted to think over 200 years of successful history evidence that disgruntled minorities can take their frustrations out by pontificating down at the corner store rather than picking up a Kalishnikov. But then it's brown people we're talking about here, isn't it? And you know what "those people" are like - they're really not ready for democracy:

The consequences for U.S. interests could be devastating. Sectarian violence might escalate into a full-blown civil war, drawing in Syria, Iran and Turkey and turning Iraq into a new Lebanon. Even worse, Iraqi Sunnis could forge stronger alliances with foreign jihadists, turning a swath of Iraq into a pre-Sept. 11 Afghanistan for a new generation of terrorists.

Yes, Senator. Iraq could erupt in violence, just like it did after the January elections. Wasn't that pretty much what you predicted? "A recipe for civil war", I believe you called them. What was that you said on CNN?

"The Elections Are Going To Be Much Messier. We Are Left With A Bad Choice In Holding Elections And A Worse Choice Of Not Holding It."

Or on the Charlie Rose show:

"It's Going To Be Ugly."

Or in December of 2004:

"Biden Believes Iraqi Elections Scheduled For January Should Be Delayed To Stabilize The Country And Gain Wider Support For The Vote From Sunnis. The Situation Is Still Salvageable, He Said."

Here we see the same, tired argument that got us into Iraq in the first place. It's the same limp mantra that paralyzes the United Nations and the EuroWeenies and prevents them from taking action, even when confronted with clear evidence of evil as in Bosnia. The notion of Consensus-uber-Alles: the idea that nothing is worth doing unless we can get absolutely everyone to agree to it. As long as there is even one holdout, the prized agreement has not been attained and we must delay, delay, delay.

All notions of right and wrong, all questions of individual loyalty, conscience, or duty are subordinated to the tyranny of Mass Agreement (which is value-neutral). It does not, after all, matter to what we all agree so long as we all do agree. The very fact that we all agree (though this chimeric state has almost no chance of actually occurring) guarantees that we have done the Right Thing. How can it not be the right thing - after all, we have all agreed that it is so!

The other wonderful aspect of Consensus-uber-Alles is that it forever ensures the tyranny of the minority over the majority: a thing the Founding Fathers feared just as much as its obverse; for no action can be taken without securing the agreement of the most fractious and disgruntled members of the group. That delay provides a visible incentive to further disrupt the proceedings for anyone (insurgents, anyone?) who does not want a Constutition ever to come to pass seems not to have occurred to the brilliant Senator Biden. Why does he think they are fighting? Perhaps we should just defer the Iraqi Constitution until everyone in the entire country is united in glorious unison. Anything else would indeed be a miserable failure of the Jeffersonian model of representative government.

Oh: and while we're at it, let's involve several groups who have, so far, steadfastly refused to help and are famous for not taking action when faced with problems larger than a hangnail:

For this policy to work, the administration must do what it has failed to do thus far: involve the major international powers and Iraq's neighbors in a stabilization strategy. The administration should create a contact group with countries such as France, Japan, Britain and Russia, along with organizations such as the European Union, NATO and the United Nations. As constitutional negotiations resumed, the Iraqis would see a united international front and be more likely to make difficult compromises.

That should speed things right up, assuming you can figure out how to get them to reverse several years of inaction, Senator.

The administration must also develop a regional strategy that either forces or induces Iraq's neighbors to act responsibly. In some instances, that would require the administration to engage regimes that the United States would rather not work with. But that's exactly what we did in the Balkans to get to the Dayton peace agreement and with Afghanistan's neighbors in the "six plus two" group and the Bonn conference. Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt could help temper the demands of the communities with which they have influence. Tehran and Damascus would be more likely to end their dangerous meddling if they saw the rest of the international community lining up with us. The president should immediately name a senior envoy to the region and organize a regional conference.

Oooh. A regional conference. That ought to impress Iran, just like all those UN sanctions impressed the heck out of Saddam. "You'd best toe the line or we'll... we'll... convene a regional conference!"

But then Biden says something I have to agree with. And he even coins a jazzy new phrase, credibility chasm:

At home, President Bush must close the credibility chasm that is threatening the most important weapon our overstretched troops have: the support of the American people. He must convince Americans that he is leveling with them about the situation in Iraq and that he has a coherent strategy for securing our fundamental national interests and bringing our troops home.

To that end, the administration should develop concrete goals for training Iraqi security forces so that they can operate independently, building a political system that enjoys legitimacy and rebuilding basic services -- and establish a reasonable timetable for meeting these goals.

I could not agree more. Let's start with quelling the insurgency in Congress. You and your Democratic brethren could be doing a lot more to support what we're trying to accomplish without undermining the confidence of the public in the war effort, and you know it. Your destructive and irresponsible rhetoric during wartime is not only shameful, but it actively undermines both the morale of our troops and public trust in our government. There is a line between honest criticism and constant carping.

Calling for a timeline is completely irresponsible, and any simpleton can tell you why, though Greg Djerejian does a fairly good job of summing it up here. I disagree with him on the efficacy of Krepinevich's oil spotting paper as I noted earlier. At the time I was unable to read his piece in Foreign Affairs, as the link was inoperable for several days, so I was going on David Brooks' surface treatment of his 'idea'. I didn't know, for instance, that he advocated doing this while drawing down the total number of troops, or I'd have greeted the theory with even more derision than I did at the time.

I meant to come back and revisit the whole thing. There is, as we have seen to our cost, a vast difference between taking ground and holding it. What makes him think that areas 'pacified' with only 120,000 troops would necessarily stay pacified? Hasn't that been our biggest problem to date - that as soon as we move out of an area, the insurgents move back in? Is it not in the nature of a spreading 'oil spot' that, as it spreads, it must, of necessity, cover more surface area, not less?

But somehow, magically, we can cover more territory with fewer troops. Got it. My husband's comments were even more scathing when I ran it by him, which made me feel marginally less snarky. There's nothing wrong with the theory; in fact, we're actually doing this in some areas right now. It's just not the silver bullet he wants to pretend it is. If warfighting were that simple we wouldn't be in the jam we're in. Forgive me if I am somewhat skeptical when a new! theory springs fully-formed like Aphrodite from the brain of a Major from Vietnam - the hidden secret of life that (shhh!) no one else thought of (but just happens to be something we're already doing).

The world seems, these days, to be full of experts like Biden and Krepinevich. Unfortunately for us, no one is letting them run the show. I wonder why that is?

Discuss amongst yourselves.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:05 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 12, 2005

Down The Memory Hole

I love it:

If you read even respectable journals these days, including this one, you would think that no more than six or seven people ever supported going to war in Iraq. A recent piece in The Post's Style section suggested that the war was an "idea" that President Bush "dusted off" five years after Bill Kristol and I came up with it in the Weekly Standard.

That's not the way I recall it. I recall support for removing Saddam Hussein by force being pretty widespread from the late 1990s through the spring of 2003, among Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, as well as neoconservatives. We all had the same information, and we got it from the same sources. I certainly had never based my judgment on American intelligence, faulty or otherwise, much less on the intelligence produced by the Bush administration before the war. I don't think anyone else did either. I had formed my impressions during the 1990s entirely on the basis of what I regarded as two fairly reliable sources: the U.N. weapons inspectors, led first by Rolf Ekeus and then by Richard Butler; and senior Clinton administration officials, especially President Bill Clinton, Madeleine Albright, William Cohen and Al Gore.

A big turning point for me was the confrontation between Hussein and the Clinton administration that began in 1997 and ended in the bombing of Iraq at the end of 1998. The crisis began when Hussein blocked U.N. inspectors' access to a huge number of suspect sites (I'm still wondering why he did that if he had nothing to hide). The Clinton administration responded by launching a campaign to prepare the nation for war. I remember listening to Albright compare Hussein to Hitler and warn that if not stopped, "he could in fact somehow use his weapons of mass destruction" or "could kind of become the salesman for weapons of mass destruction." I remember Cohen appearing on television with a five-pound bag of sugar and explaining that that amount of anthrax "would destroy at least half the population" of Washington, D.C. Even as late as September 2002, Gore gave a speech insisting that Hussein "has stored away secret supplies of biological weapons and chemical weapons throughout his country."

In his second term Clinton and his top advisers concluded that Hussein's continued rule was dangerous, if not intolerable. Albright called explicitly for his ouster as a precondition for lifting sanctions. And it was in the midst of that big confrontation, in December 1997, that Kristol and I argued what the Clinton administration was already arguing: that containment was no longer an adequate policy for dealing with Saddam Hussein. In January 1998 I joined several others in a letter to the president insisting that "the only acceptable strategy" was one that eliminated "the possibility that Iraq will be able to use or threaten to use weapons of mass destruction." That meant "a willingness to undertake military action" and eventually "removing Saddam Hussein and his regime from power." The signatories included Francis Fukuyama, Richard Armitage and Robert Zoellick.

About a year later, the Senate passed a resolution, co-sponsored by Joseph Lieberman and John McCain, providing $100 million for the forcible overthrow of Hussein. It passed with 98 votes. On Sept. 20, 2001, I signed a letter to President Bush in which we endorsed then-Secretary of State Colin Powell's statement that Hussein was "one of the leading terrorists on the face of the Earth." We argued that "any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq." That letter, too, was signed by Fukuyama, Eliot Cohen, Stephen Solarz, Martin Peretz and many others.

I recall broad bipartisan support for removing Hussein right up to the eve of the war. In March 2003, just before the invasion, I signed a letter in support of the war along with a number of former Clinton officials, including deputy national security adviser James Steinberg, ambassador Peter Galbraith, ambassador Dennis Ross, ambassador Martin Indyk, Ivo Daalder, Ronald Asmus and ambassador Robert Gelbard.

I recall a column on this page by my colleague Richard Cohen on March 11, 2003, shortly before the invasion. He argued that "in the run-up to this war, the Bush administration has slipped, stumbled and fallen on its face. It has advanced untenable, unproven arguments. It has oscillated from disarmament to regime change to bringing democracy to the Arab world. It has linked Hussein with al Qaeda when no such link has been established. It has warned of an imminent Iraqi nuclear program when, it seems, that's not the case. And it has managed, in a tour de force of inept diplomacy, to alienate much of the world, including some of our traditional allies."

Despite all that, however, and despite acknowledging that "war is bad -- very, very bad," Cohen argued that it was necessary to go to war anyway. "[S]ometimes peace is no better, especially if all it does is postpone a worse war," and that "is what would happen if the United States now pulled back. . . . Hussein would wait us out. . . . If, at the moment, he does not have nuclear weapons, it's not for lack of trying. He had such a program once and he will have one again -- just as soon as the world loses interest and the pressure on him is relaxed." In the meantime, Cohen wrote, Hussein would "stay in power -- a thug in control of a crucial Middle Eastern nation. He will remain what he is, a despot who runs a criminal regime. He will continue to oppress and murder his own people . . . and resume support of terrorism abroad. He is who he is. He deserves no second chance." I agreed with that judgment then. I still do today.

Read it. Read it all.

And then take a little stroll down Memory Lane with me:

Stop Lying About The Case For War:

Senator Jay Rockafeller and the Congressional Resolution approving the use of force, on the connections between Iraq and al Qaeda

John Kerry, in 2002, was excoriating Bush for not taking action, given the connection between Iraq and al Qaeda.

There is an awful lot of historical revisionism going on in Washington.

A lot of people who relied on exactly the same information George Bush did. The same information the Senate Select Intelligence Committee ruled was not improperly manipulated by the White House.

A lot of people who, before George Bush was ever elected, were calling for the removal of Hussein from office, by force if necessary, for reasons that included far more than weapons of mass destruction.

These same people are now claiming that they were "deceived" by George Bush.

How, pray tell, did W "deceive" them while he was still Governor of Texas and Bill Clinton was President? This is a question the mainstream media never seems to ask. And with all their resources, the media never seem to be able to contrast the statements of these pundits and politicians with their stances just a few years back.

Why is that, I wonder? Who's lying now?

Posted by Cassandra at 10:38 AM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

Tilting At Windmills

I have been thinking about this topic all weekend, and I'm frustrated as hell. I've emailed a few people I'd like to see write about it from several different aspects. As for me, I'm still thinking, so you'll get only cursory analysis until I'm done. I suppose in a general sense, I agree with both authors. But I fail to see what they expect the President to actually do about it?

Mark Helprin thinks we're ignoring China, to our peril:

For more than 20 years prior to September 11, Islamic terrorists imprisoned and murdered our diplomats and military personnel, destroyed our civil aviation, machine-gunned our civilians, razed our embassies, attacked an American warship and, in 1993, the U.S. itself. For varying reasons, none legitimate, we hesitated to mount an offensive against the terrorists' infrastructure, hunt them down, eliminate a single rogue regime that supported them, or properly disconcert our fatted allies whose robes they infested. This was comparable in its way to Munich. Only in 2001, when it became obvious to any rational being that we must, did we retaliate, but even then in the face of domestic pressure to judicialize the response, which was exactly what we had done all along. The underlying corollary to this reflex of appeasement is the notion that our military options are constrained financially, as if we are not a nation of stupendous wealth and it has not been the American tradition since the Civil War to spend, in support of war, with the intensity of war itself. In 1945, we devoted 38.5% of GNP to defense, the equivalent of $4.76 trillion now. The current $400 billion defense budget is a twelfth of that and only 3.2% of GDP, as opposed to the average of 5.7% of GNP in the peacetime years between 1940 and 2000. A false sense of constraint has arisen in every quarter of society. It is the ethos of the administration, the press, the civilian side of the Pentagon, and many of the prominent uniformed military brought to high rank in recent years.

They are all so wrong. In violating established tradition and throwing aside advantage and elemental common sense, they waste American lives. And for what? What moral construction would allow anyone to spend more than 2,000 dead and tens of thousands of wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan--so far--while insisting without major exception that cutting costs is a virtue? When is holding back from one's troops at war the reinforcements, armor and basic equipment they need a virtue rather than a sin?

Is it not the duty of the secretary of defense, his chiefs, and the wide array of generals to press energetically--even to the point of resignation--for whatever is necessary (not the minimum, but a safe surplus) to support the armies in the field? If they do not, who will? Had the president gone to Congress on September 12 and asked for almost anything, he would have been granted it. But he never did. This was a fundamental strategic error. If you must go to war, do not do so hesitantly, with half a heart. And in answer to the rationale that the casualties of this war are relatively light, one does not decently measure casualties against those of previous wars, but in terms of whether they can be avoided.

Yes, had the President gone to Congress on September 12th, he'd have been granted almost anything.... and it would have been just as promptly rescinded on September 20th.

Helprin is almost wilfully blind to the events of the past four years and to the poisonous politics on Capitol Hill. Just watching the backstabbing and double-dealing on the Patriot Act should be enough to convince anyone of that. Or if you need further proof, try tracking any Democratic Senator's utterances now against what he or she said in 2001. I guarantee you you're in for an eye-opener.

And then there's this:

The War on Terror is over. What started as a bold campaign to “bring justice to our enemies” across the globe has been redefined as, essentially, a counter-insurgency action in Iraq, the express goal of which is to prepare the new Iraqi government to defend itself, “and then our troops will come home with the honor they have earned.”

Why do I hear Howie Dean in the background? "And then we'll go to Syria, and Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, and the Sudan... and YEEEEARGHHHHH!!!!!"

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! As much as I hate to be accused of failing to be 'more hawkish-than-Thou', exactly where does this gentleman expect to find the popular or Congressional support for a global jihad against terrorism?

Last time I checked, we still had not replaced civilian control of the armed forces with a military junta. Whence the necessary troops? Float this idea, even in the Pentagon, and I imagine you'd find little enthusiasm at present.

And I find this statement simply breathtaking:

Although President Bush tries to mask this strategic retreat with tough-sounding words about “fighting terrorists in Iraq, so we do not have to face them here at home,” there is something hollow, even a bit craven, about this new slogan. It also is demonstrably untrue, as proved by the Madrid and London bombings. And by President Bush’s repeated promises to bring American troops home just as soon as the Iraqis are capable of fighting the insurgents themselves, not after the insurgents are defeated.

The awful truth is that President Bush has reverted to pre-9/11 thinking about how we should be dealing with the terrorist threat.

Oh really? The over 100,000 troops currently risking their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan, a position some consider the front lines in the war on terrorism, might beg to differ with you, sir. But then they're considerably closer to the action and have a different view of events.

You play the hand you're dealt. Sometimes it's full of Ted Kennedys and Harry Reids. You don't have to like it.

Don't get me wrong. Do I agree that, strategically, we may be making a mistake by narrowing our mission focus too much and (consequently) allowing our military to be downsized? Yes.

But in the absence of a big, scary boogeyman like the USSR or Saddam Hussein with a large arsenal of WMDs, it's hard to whip up public support for a large, standing military. And people are basically sheep. Unless you scare the snot out of them, they won't support military action or a well-equipped armed force. They never want them until they need them, and then it's too late.

Not that I'm bitter or anything.

Posted by Cassandra at 09:13 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 31, 2005

A Fire In The Hearts Of Men

Here we go again.

It's time for the Pessimism Parade: that priceless pageant of histrionics, hand-wringing and overwrought predictions of disaster courtesy of the same folks who warned us Saddam would use those non-existent WMDs against us if we deposed him. Who said Operation Iraqi Freedom would be a bloodbath and the Arab Street would rise against us in solidarity with their Persian brethren.

You may recall they tried to warn us about the Afghani elections. The tiny mountainous nation was going to explode in a maelstrom of firebombings and riots...

It didn't.

They wept great tears of frustration when we didn't heed their dire predictions in January. Couldn't we see that disaster was just around the corner? Back then I predicted that just as the citizens of San Salvador did in 1982, the Iraqis would brave the wrath of the insurgents to get to the polls.

And they did: magnificently.

Now that the Iraqis have reached another milestone on the journey to democracy, the naysayers are out in full force again:

"A formula for civil war," says Senator Joe Biden. He's referring to the Sunni rejection of the new Iraq constitution, and it's always possible that this time he'll be right. Then again, he and many others also predicted disaster before January's wildly successful Iraq elections. "It's going to be ugly," the Delaware Democrat said at the time.

So here's a radical thought: How about letting Iraqis debate and vote on their new national charter before we Americans summarily denounce it as a failure?

As usual, the media and critics of the administration have kept the focus on the Sunnis, who comprise only 20% of Iraq's population, as though they were the most important - indeed the only factor - to be considered in the formation of the new Iraqi government. And there is a method in their madness.

Since September 11th, the President's critics have sought to paint him as recklesslessly and unilaterally running roughshod over all opposition. Just how a leader who puts together a Coalition of 30 nations can be said to be acting unilaterally, recklessly, and without allies is never quite explained, unless the other 29 democratic nations who have joined with us in this venture are likewise unilateral, friendless, and reckless. The secret to this tactic lies in arbitrarily redefining words like "unilateral". In the former case, unilateral means, "without the permission of France and Germany".

In like fashion, the administration's foes seek to redefine the meaning of success as it applies to the establishment of democratic governance in Iraq. Under normal circumstances, one might reasonably see success in the drafting and ratification of a Constitution that contains protections for women and minority populations, the free exercise of religion, and some separation of church and state. And indeed, the draft of the Iraqi Constitution appears to do all of those things.

But there is a fly in the proverbial ointment. The Sunnis are not happy. This is hardly surprising. Democratic republics are normally composed of competing factions who hold opposing views. Since not all factions are equally represented and most opposing views are, by nature, mutually exclusive a binary choice is presented to voters. One either favors or opposes kitten bouncing laws, for instance. In the end, the faction with the most persuasive case and the most voters willing to cast a favorable vote (note: not necessarily the most supporters) will win the day.

The other factions will, of necessity, then form what is known as The Loyal Opposition, or in less positive terms, the disaffected minority. Unless the Sunnis, with their 20% share of the Iraqi population, can make a persuasive case to the general electorate for measures they favor, they are doomed to become a disaffected minority. This is neither a miserable failure on the part of the Bush administration, an indication that democracy cannot work in an Arab nation, nor an indictment of our foreign policy. It is simply a fact of life in representative government. And to maintain that every brown-skinned disaffected minority inevitably picks up the nearest Kalishnakov and starts blasting away when they cannot get a provision written into a draft political document is not only patronizing and cynical, but smacks of the kind of parochialism and Ugly Americanism that Europeans rightly used to look down on us for. It is surprising, therefore, to see this attitude coming from the party of tolerance and diversity.

And whence all this pessimism concerning the Sunnis, anyway? As the WSJ Journal notes, sneering condescension from effete liberals aside, racial and ethnic groups are not necessarily monolithic in their opinions:

For the Sunnis to defeat the constitution they will have to participate in the vote. That's more than they did in January's elections, and by itself represents a commitment to a democratic process that many Americans insist isn't possible in an Arab culture.

It is also by no means clear that the constitution will be rejected by Iraq's voters. The pact must be repudiated by a two-thirds vote in at least three of Iraq's 18 provinces. A large Sunni turnout could mean "no" votes in two of Iraq's three predominantly Sunni provinces--Anbar and Sulemaniyah--but is less likely in Nineveh, which has a large Kurdish population. Ratification in the other 15 predominantly Kurdish or Shiite provinces is all but assured.

In the secrecy of the voting booth, many Sunnis may even favor the charter that their ostensible leaders denounce. The constitution's protections are one shield against Shiite religious domination. Super-majority clauses also guarantee Sunni influence in parliament. And Sunni negotiators wrangled key concessions on the de-Baathification Commission, which now can be disbanded by a simple majority vote of the new parliament, rather than the two-thirds stipulated in an earlier draft. (Sunnis dominated Saddam Hussein's ruling Baath Party.)

Most important, the constitution allocates oil revenues on a per-capita basis, meaning the oil-poor Sunni regions will be net beneficiaries of the oil-rich Kurdish north and Shiite south. All this amounts to the best deal Sunnis can reasonably expect in a new Iraq, and we suspect more than a few of them know it. Many Sunni leaders will acknowledge this privately, but they don't want to say it publicly lest they become targets of assassination from the terrorists who want chaos over any kind of government.

Pejman Yousefzadeh seconds this notion, quoting a Sunni member of the drafting committee:

A Sunni member of the constitutional drafting committee, Mahmoud al-Mashadani, said he favored approving the document. But he added that he feared he could become a target of more militant Sunnis if he were to speak out about it, particularly if the Muslim Scholars Association, an influential Sunni group, were to denounce the charter.

"Who is going to protect me when I'm walking in the streets after that?" he said, adding that he had just heard a Sunni imam denouncing those who supported the constitution as infidels.

Other Sunnis have expressed similar fears, especially after two Sunnis involved in drafting the constitution were assassinated last month.

Two dozen Sunni sheiks in Falluja, west of the capital, said Saturday that more than 5,000 leaflets had been distributed in and around the town in the past two weeks warning people not to vote in the constitutional referendum in October. Although the leaflets did not say those who voted would be killed, that is what the residents believe, the sheiks said.

Of course, if the Sunnis abstain from voting, their influence in the 3 provinces in which they predominate will be much diluted. It is hard to see what Sunni leaders hope to gain from this tactic, unless it is to undermine confidence in the Constitution. But I imagine if enough Iraqis show up on October 15th, it will proceed, with or without Sunni participation. Morover, as John Podhoretz points out, there will have to be some pretty heavy Sunni turnout for the referendum to be defeated:

Iraq has 18 provinces. Sunnis dominate in three of those provinces. In each of those three provinces, the vote will have to be 66.6 percent opposed to the constitution for it to lose. In the privacy of the ballot box, Sunnis may opt for freedom over chaos, for the future rather than the past. After all, one third of Sunnis need do so for the constitution to achieve its historic passage.

What we know about true Sunni attitudes does not derive from the Sunni body politic — because the Sunnis avoided mass political expression in the January elections.

We are now at that perilous stage when the training wheels come off. And if the pundits have gone picnicking so far they are truly going to have a field day now, for we have reached the stage where our role, increasingly, will be to stand on the sidelines much as parents of teenagers do, and watch as a fledgling nation tries its wings for the first time.

The new government may well falter. It will certainly fall down once or twice, and when it does the Pessimism Police will be right there with their shrill little whistles saying, "I told you so".

But if the Constitution is defeated on October 15th will that be the final blow to hopes of a free and democratic Iraq?

Of course not. It will undoubtedly be discouraging. But in the end, the Iraqis will just have to go back to the drawing board and argue, draw up new plans, compromise, and reach a consensus that is agreeable not only to the Shiite majority but to the Sunni minority. This is democracy in action: an admittedly imperfect and inefficient process by which we attain majority rule with protection for minority rights. Is this such a horrible thing? If we can stand by their side and maintain order, allow them the space to make this fragile dream a reality, what a powerful vision will be set before the Arab world: indeed, before literally hundreds of small nations who are longing for democracy.

Democracy can work. The road is not always easy, nor free of bloodshed and strife. But it is possible. Truly, a fire has been lit in the hearts of men, and that fire is not so easily extinguished as the naysayers would have us believe.

Posted by Cassandra at 06:24 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

August 29, 2005

A Strategy For Winning This War

David Brooks has an interesting piece in the NY Times. Now that the January elections are over, the Constitution all but finished and we seem to be stuck in a Mexican standoff with the insurgency, the sharp focus of hindsight is being trained on the military to show us how things should have been done:

Andrew Krepinevich is a careful, scholarly man. A graduate of West Point and a retired lieutenant colonel, his book, "The Army and Vietnam," is a classic on how to fight counterinsurgency warfare.

Over the past year or so he's been asking his friends and former colleagues in the military a few simple questions: Which of the several known strategies for fighting insurgents are you guys employing in Iraq? What metrics are you using to measure your progress?

The answers have been disturbing. There is no clear strategy. There are no clear metrics.

Really? No metrics? How interesting. What do I keep hearing PAO brief to the press then? Must be my imagination playing tricks on me.

If you're thinking I sound skeptical, cynical, or even downright hostile that’s probably a pretty accurate assessment, because it seems to me lately that everyone and his uncle has a plan. Unfortunately, few of these plans take either the real-world constraints within which we currently operate or the rancorous debate leading up to the war into account. It's all very well to say we should have done this, that, or the other thing. The real question is: could we have done it? And that is a very different question indeed.

I see few scholarly treatises devoted to exploring those issues, however. It's so much more fun to throw out the constraints and try to solve the problem that way.

Brooks goes on to describe the latest critique of our counterinsurgency tactics in Iraq, which does sound very much like good sense. Called "oil spotting', it proposes an alternative to search and destroy missions in which we take and secure 'safe havens' of Iraqi ground, gradually using these 'oil spots' as focii from which we slowly spread a feeling of security and progress, much as a puddle of oil spreads inexorably across a flat surface:

Instead of trying to kill insurgents, Krepinevich argues, it's more important to protect civilians. You set up safe havens where you can establish good security. Because you don't have enough manpower to do this everywhere at once, you select a few key cities and take control. Then you slowly expand the size of your safe havens, like an oil spot spreading across the pavement.

Once you've secured a town or city, you throw in all the economic and political resources you have to make that place grow. The locals see the benefits of working with you. Your own troops and the folks back home watching on TV can see concrete signs of progress in these newly regenerated neighborhoods. You mix your troops in with indigenous security forces, and through intimate contact with the locals you begin to even out the intelligence advantage that otherwise goes to the insurgents.

This sounds suspiciously like something I heard one of those eponymous 'advisors' say on the news the other night: "we've got to dismount - get out of our Humvees and circulate amongst the Iraqis". Or as my Dad likes to say, 'get out and walk amongst 'em'.

This all sounds fabulous except, as with most wondrous plans conceived in the blinding light of hindsight, it tends to overlook a few minor impedimenta... one of them being reality. The most pressing problem is noted by Brooks himself: we lack the sheer numbers needed to implement Krepinevich's plan effectively.

Another sticking point is opposition from both Iraqis and political opponents back home. Since the fall of Baghdad, paranoia about a US occupying force has been rampant. The Iraqis have been extremely touchy about anything that looked as though we were digging in our heels and making our presence permanent. This plan smacks of exactly that kind of permanance, which may well explain why we didn't try something along these lines in the first place - we were trying to keep a low profile to avoid arousing opposition from the Iraqis, not to mention cries of 'no permanent bases' and 'US imperialism' from the anti-war crowd back home. I remember just this sort of thing being discussed just after the fall of Baghdad.

It's true that the insurgency may have changed public opinion enough now that we could combine a stepped-up US presence with the in-training Iraqi Army, but that is a situation that did not exist several months ago.

And even if we could get the Iraqis to agree, political opposition at home would still be an issue. These military and academic solutions generally ignore the rancorous political atmosphere at the time we went to war. Increasing the size of the military, as some suggested we do immediately after 9/11, would have been impossible then. We were lucky to get the resources we did, when the Democratic Presidential nominee showed no compunction about lying about the cost of war if it would win the election:

There's little question that the Iraq war and its bloody aftermath will cost $200 billion, eventually. But so far, the bill for the war is still under $120 billion, according to the Office of Management and Budget. Kerry runs the figure up to $200 billion by counting money scheduled to be spent next fiscal year, plus additional funds for the future that haven't even been requested yet. He also is counting money projected to be spent for operations in Afghanistan and to protect US cities, not for Iraq.

Kerry's stump speech uses the $200 billion figure repeatedly -- 14 times in one recent speech in Cincinnati alone. The $200 billion figure also is used in a Kerry-Edwards TV ad: "Wrong Choice" (see script at left) released Sept. 7. And it was also used by the Democratic National Committee in an ad called "Iraq" that ran in New York during the Republican National Convention there.

But he was hardly alone. Ted Kennedy was right there by his side claiming the war was a "fraud, made up in Texas". Not one to be outdone in the hyperbole department, Rep. Charles Rangel, (D, NY) chimed right in, saying Iraq was "worse than the Holocaust".

"This is just as bad as six million Jews being killed. The whole world knew it and they were quiet about it, because it wasn't their ox that was being gored."

Perhaps the real 'oil spot' strategy the President needs is not in Iraq, but right here in the United States? With a tough and utterly unprincipled counterinsurgency undermining his every move in both Houses of Congress and the media, the prospects for success are looking dim. Brooks comments:

Today, public opinion is turning against the war not because people have given up on the goal of advancing freedom, but because they are not sure this war is winnable. Why should we sacrifice more American lives to a lost cause?

Maybe a company of Marines, strategically deployed to Capitol Hill, could establish a beach head? Once the administration has one such 'safe haven', the people's confidence will be strengthened and we can pool our economic and political resources to grow it across Washington.

I agree. Quit fooling around, Mr. President..

Take Washington now.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:57 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

August 24, 2005

Prayers Needed

Some Soldier's Mom's son has been injured in a VBIED attack in Iraq. He sustained serious injuries to his spine. Please pray for his quick recovery. His name is SPC. Noah Pincusoff:

I just spoke with my son from Iraq!! He is waiting evac from Iraq to Germany for further evaluation of his spine... All the prayers worked BIG TIME as they determined that they did not have to operate in Iraq and will await further tests in Germany... He is in significant pain on any movement of the upper spine (C1,C2,C3) and pretty bad pain in the lower back. !")... and his brain's been rattled a bit (took him 10 minutes to remember his birth date) and he says he has lots of shrapnel lacerations on his head... mostly small deep wounds not requiring stitches... though he has some stitches.

More details at her place. Please take a moment to put in a good word for this young man. Thanks to Beth at My Vast RightWing Conspiracy for the heads-up.

Posted by Cassandra at 11:08 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

August 22, 2005

Turning Iraq Into Vietnam

Frustrated by the failure of current events to prove them right, opponents of the war on terror seem determined to turn Iraq into Vietnam by main force if need be. Sadly, even the Republican Party is not without its nervous Nellies, who, like their whimpering brethren on the Left, seek reassurance that the US will pull out of Iraq within x, y, or z months, miraculously without setting an exit date, betraying the Iraqis, or triggering any of the negative consequences that would seem to flow from such a move:

Sen. Chuck Hagel (R) NE, said on Sunday the longer the United States stayed bogged down in Iraq, the more the conflict looked like another Vietnam War.
"What I think the White House does not yet understand and some of my colleagues, is the dam has broken on this (Iraq) policy,"

"We should start figuring out how we get out of there. But with this understanding, we cannot leave a vacuum that further destabilizes the Middle East," said Hagel.

Quick translation for the English-impaired: “I demand that we cut and run (without cutting and running). The dam the good Senator refers to is that barrier of good sense which, at least formerly, held back a flood of self-serving, regrettable, and ill-timed commentary from choleric Senators eager to get their mugs in front of a television camera. I fear that in this one instance at least, Senator Hagel's powers of prediction will prove uncannily accurate.

In his quest for another Vietnam, Mr. Hagel is ably seconded by Andrew Bacevich in the Outlook section of Sunday's WaPo:

The banner decorating the USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003, when President Bush announced an end to "major combat operations" in Iraq, turns out to have been accurate after all. If only the president himself had taken to heart the banner's proclamation of "Mission Accomplished." For by that date, having deposed Saddam Hussein, the United States had achieved in Iraq just about all that it has the capacity to achieve. The time has come for Bush to dig the banner out of the closet, drape it across the front of the White House and make it the basis for policy instead of continuing under the inglorious banner of "Mission Impossible."

I was so stunned by the naivety of this opening salvo that I very nearly didn't read the rest of his piece. Has he, perchance, not paid attention to the fate of the former Soviet Union? No sane person could argue that the USSR was not in far better shape when the totalitarian state collapsed from within in 1991. And yet, nearly fifteen years later, the former Soviet Union remains torn by bloody civil and ethnic strife and ridden with terrorism. One would hardly say that the fall of Communism united the Soviets: in fact, it seems to have divided them.

But Bacevich is on a mission. He seems to think Iraq’s only problem, these days, is us. If we’d just pull out, everything would be coming up daisies:

Ironically, ever since the presidential victory lap of two years ago, the Bush administration has been in the forefront of those insisting that the U.S. mission in Iraq is not accomplished -- that there is ever so much more that the United States can and must do on behalf of the Iraqi people. Hence the grandiose U.S. promises of reconstruction, economic and political reform, and nation-building. The chief effect of efforts to fulfill these promises has been to convert a short, economical and purportedly glorious war into a long, costly and debilitating one.

Moreover, senior U.S. military leaders have increasingly concluded that the long war is an unwinnable one. "[T]his insurgency is not going to be settled, the terrorists and the terrorism in Iraq is not going to be settled, through military options or military operations," Brig. Gen. Donald Alston, the chief U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, acknowledged earlier this summer. "It's going to be settled in the political process." However self-serving it may be -- the military's eagerness to offload responsibility for the course of events in Iraq has become palpable of late -- Alston's analysis is correct.

The author is hardly the first Vietnam veteran to be anti-military and anti-war, and if anyone doubted his sentiments, his last comment should surely make them abundantly clear. Making a statement that should be intuitively obvious to anyone who isn't flat-lining: that permanent political stability cannot be achieved by the military - is hardly "off-loading responsibility". Moreover, these "senior U.S. military leaders" are nowhere quoted, unless perhaps General Alston is to be given credit for multiple personalities. And in any event, reading General Alston's last press conference gives an entirely different impression - he seems quite happy to take credit for what the military has so far achieved in Iraq. He can perhaps be forgiven for not wishing them to be blamed for not jumping in and ghostwriting the Iraqi Constitution.

But Bacevich's train of thought really jumps the track when he reveals his thesis:

Alas, the Bush administration adamantly insists that any such political process can only proceed with constant American coaching and oversight. Underlying this insistence is the assumption, seldom voiced openly, that the Iraqi people are incapable of managing their own affairs. They need us.

Do they? In fact, apart from consuming $300 billion and many thousands of lives (including more than 1,850 U.S. soldiers), the attempt to tutor Iraqis on their journey to American-style freedom has yielded results quite opposite from those intended: Rather than producing security, our continued massive military presence has helped fuel continuing violence. Rather than producing liberal democracy, our meddling in Iraqi politics has exacerbated political dysfunction. And by signaling the importance that it attributes to satisfying the core interests of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds alike, Washington has encouraged all three factions to increase their demands. Convinced that the Americans will never permit a cataclysmic collision, each faction is committed to playing a high-stakes game of chicken. If Iraq in August 2005 qualifies as the political equivalent of a clapped-out, self-abusing dependent, then the Bush administration ought to be recognized as being an enabler.

At last it can be revealed! The many ethnic and religious factions in Iraq have no reason, saving our presence, not to get along! Who knew it was so simple! Apparently Steven Vincent's last dispatch to the NY Times, in which he noted the huge difference in ethnic and religious strife in the British-controlled areas of Iraq, was just a big mistake! Vincent and his Iraqi interpreter attributed the rise of sectarian strife to the fact that the British, unlike the Americans, had made absolutely no attempt to teach democratic values to the Iraqis in areas under their control: ideas like toleration, inclusion, representation of minority rights.

fairy.jpg But apparently, according to Bacevich, people can simply absorb completely new political philosophies, even totally reconstruct an entire society overnight by osmosis and feats of magic! Little fairies come while the Iraqis sleep, instilling democratic values and rebuilding schools, power plants, roads, and war-torn economies! Shazzam! Huge influxes of foreign capital appear like magic, without any hand to guide them!

I must say, this is wonderful news! How exciting, to learn that efforts like this have been totally unneeded:

There are 35 battalion-size operations going on every day in Iraq, and Iraqi security forces solely are running roughly 20 percent of those, Alston said. The Iraqi soldiers' presence in communities gives the citizens confidence and encourages them to give the soldiers information about weapons and insurgents, he added. Several weapons caches are discovered every week, he said, and they include items like counterfeit U. S. money, mines, anti-tank missiles, anti-aircraft guns, dynamite and bombs.

"All of this and more are now off the streets of Iraq thanks to the efforts of the Iraqi security forces, their coalition partners and the people of Iraq," he said.

Undoubtedly, if we just left, the terrorists would not try to seize control. Why, they would just peacefully melt away! And if not, the Iraqis can just train themselves: the fact that it is taking us significant time and energy to do the job does not, by any means, imply that the job is difficult.

And after all, the UN is in Iraq, and even Kofi Annan sees progress, although none of this would have happened, had President Bush done as Bacevich suggests and left immediately after the fall of Saddam. But surely the UN would remain in Iraq if the US military withdrew?

Elections were held in January, on schedule. Three months later the Transitional National Assembly endorsed the transitional government. The dominant parties have begun inclusive negotiations, in which outreach to Sunni Arabs is a major theme. A large number of Sunni groups and parties are now working to make sure that their voices are fully heard in the process of drafting a new constitution, and that they participate fully in the referendum to approve it and the elections slated for December.

In aid of the transition, the United Nations is at work, both inside and outside the country, to support donor coordination, capacity-building of Iraqi ministries and civil society organizations, and delivery of basic services. Reconstruction of schools, water-treatment and waste-treatment plants, power plants and transmission lines, food assistance to children, mine clearing and aid to hundreds of thousands of returning refugees and internally displaced persons -- all of these activities occur every day in Iraq under U.N. leadership.

TaskForce Baghdad reports that since the US deposed Saddam:

..a total of 1,451 projects valued at $1.4 billion have been completed. Large-scale capital projects like power plants, water treatment plants and oil infrastructure facilities are being reconstructed and, in some cases, built anew.
Demand for electricity is currently growing faster than it is able to be supplied; however, new power lines of 33 kilovolts have been completed. Generation plants are being built and transmission lines are being constructed to replace a decades-old, neglected electrical power system.

A total of more than 2,000 megawatts of power have been added to the grid (enough to service 5.4 million Iraqi homes). More than 1,400 electrical towers and 8,600 kilometers of transmission lines have been installed.

Much has been reported on the shortage of electricity in Iraq, but there is one interesting fact I have not heard mentioned: electricity in Iraq is FREE. That's right, there is no charge for electric power in Iraq. Is it any wonder, then, that demand far outstrips supply?

Have we ever seen an economic system where a good is not charged for and the supply is adequate to the demand? We have also heard that gas is in short supply. But this Rand study is quite revealing:

It is impossible to overemphasize the importance of liberalizing gasoline and diesel fuel prices for the health of the Iraqi polity and economy. Currently, gasoline and diesel fuel are sold at about a nickel a gallon; smuggled into neighboring Turkey, they can be resold for more than $5 a gallon. Confronted with these nonsensical differences in prices, no society is immune from corruption. It is pervasive in the downstream activities of the Ministry of Oil. The severity of corruption is revealed in the lengths to which those involved are willing to go in order to preserve their access to state resources. The last two executives in charge of refining and product distribution were reportedly shot by organizations involved in stealing fuel, not insurgents. The first executive was wounded; the second was killed. These people were not victims of the insurgency, but of corruption.

Although the Iraqi economy grew by 50% in 2004, most of that growth was driven by oil revenue and that growth was in turn hampered by the rampant corruption, theft, and outdated accounting practices inherent in the current Iraqi system.

But despite the setbacks, overall life seems to be getting better for most Iraqi families. Bacevich not only refuses to credit this progress to our efforts so far, but blames the 'ongoing turmoil' on our presence. Anticipating our withdrawal, he paints a happy picture of pan-Arab cooperation that will ensure a stable Iraq:

In addition to assuming that Iraqis require American supervision, the Bush administration's insistence on staying the course also implicitly assumes that a U.S. withdrawal would leave a dangerous political vacuum in the region. But this assumption too is suspect. More likely, the American departure would foster a political dynamic in which Iraq's neighbors would exert themselves to keep Iraq from spinning out of control -- not out of any concern for the well-being of the Iraqi people but out of sheer self-interest.

Well let's think this one over for a moment: who are "Iraq's neighbors"? Non-democratic states who have no reason to greet the emergence of a democratic Iraq with any great degree of joy. Could this be why Syria and Iran are sending insurgents over the border to subvert the fledgling Iraqi government? All over the Arab world, the public opinion has been changing over the past two years. It has become much more favorable towards the United States and towards democracy in general. Much of the population in Arab states such as Lebanon, Iran, and Egypt are beginning to demand democratic reform from their own governments. This is a key fact which Bacevich totally ignores in his analysis:

Among the autocrats holding sway in the Persian Gulf, Saddam Hussein was the last remaining quasi-revolutionary. The regimes that control Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria and even Iran are not maneuvering to overturn the political order in the region. This is not to say that they are benign. But they do share one overriding interest, namely preserving their own hold on power -- an objective not at all served by allowing Iraq to wallow in perpetual turmoil. Iraq's neighbors have a compelling interest in facilitating a political process that just might bring a semblance of order to that country. For religious, cultural and historical reasons, they are also far better positioned than the United States to offer assistance that might actually prove helpful.

Saddam was not a revolutionary. He was merely the most effective of the Arab despots. He modeled himself on Josef Stalin. Bacevich is right about one thing - Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iran are interested in maintaining their hold on power, and a democratic Iraq is a threat to that goal, because the spread of democratic values in the Middle East will undermine the totalitarian nature of their governments. For this reason, the incentive for these states is to undermine rather than strengthen the political process in Iraq: they are far more likely to find a tyrant and back his rise to power than to wish to see democracy (and a government that is both friendly to, and indebted to, the US) gain a foothold there.

But it is Bacevich's last assertion which alarmed me most: I was unable to decide whether it was just naive or simply disgustingly cynical.

Will a U.S. withdrawal guarantee a happy outcome for the people of Iraq? Of course not. In sowing the seeds of chaos through his ill-advised invasion, Bush made any such guarantee impossible. If one or more of the Iraqi factions chooses civil war, they will have it. Should the Kurds opt for independence, then modern Iraq will cease to exist. No outside power can prevent such an outcome from occurring anymore than an outside power could have denied Americans their own civil war in 1861.
Dismemberment is by no means to be desired and would surely visit even more suffering on the much-abused people of Iraq. But in the long run, the world would likely find ways to adjust to this seemingly unthinkable prospect just as it learned to accommodate the collapse of the Soviet Union, the division of Czechoslovakia and the disintegration of Yugoslavia.

Does the author seriously imagine for one second that if the Kurds were to secede, Turkey would stand quietly by and do nothing? If so, he is sadly mistaken. Such an act would be destabilizing in the extreme, and could likely result in another flare-up that we might find impossible to ignore. And once the Kurds seceded, what would prevent the disaffected Sunnis, who refused to participate in the January elections, from throwing their hand in with Iran? That is surely a development the West would greet with great alarm, though I doubt the Iranians would be dismayed to see Iraq annexed to Iran and the Sunnis once more in control. Given the centuries of tension between Iraq and Iran, such an invitation to invade might be all the pretext needed to send the region spinning out of control.

There are many arguments to be made for helping the military out in the long and difficult job of rebuilding Iraq. I am not, and have never been, sure why DOD seems to be uniquely tasked with the job of reconstructing an entire society. We are the world's richest nation, with an enormous government composed of many branches. The military itself is composed of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard, of which at present only the Army and Marine Corps appear to be at war.

Perhaps rather than trying desperately to pluck failure from the ashes of success, great minds like Andrew Bacevich might turn their laser-like mental talents to analyzing how a great nation might better use its resources to accomplish this great task we have set before us? I am sick of little minds bewailing how the mightiest nation on the face of the earth cannot handle this, that, or the next job because of a few setbacks in our way.

History shows us that great things are not accomplished easily. If we would claim a place among our forebears, then we must show a little fortitude, some resolve, and the ability to adjust our thinking when things do not go smoothly. These things are not beyond us, if we do not succumb to the wailing of defeatist intellectuals who cherry-pick examples and quotes to convince us that we are beaten before we even venture out our front doors in the morning. God help this nation if "We can't do it!" is to be the clarion call that summons a new generation to defend American values and interests in the 21st Century.

Posted by Cassandra at 09:20 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

August 17, 2005

World History According To Clinton

Arrggghhhh!!!

This quote will never see the light of day:

As a rule, he refuses to bluntly criticize George W. Bush, whose political skills he considers “extraordinary” and whose father he genuinely likes. When I ask whether he enjoys playing good cop around the world to George W.’s bad cop, he punts, saying, “It’s not true that people dislike W. all over the world. In Russia, they probably like him more than they like me.” When I mention that both McCurry and Sandy Berger, Clinton’s former national-security adviser, told me that Clinton, too, would have gone to war with Iraq, he doesn’t deny the possibility, though he doesn’t confirm it either, saying, “I’m still not exactly sure what the intelligence really said. But I can tell you this: I would have asked the Congress for authority to use force if Saddam did not allow the inspectors back in, or did not cooperate with them, or we found weapons of mass destruction. Because he never did anything he wasn’t forced to do, at least in my experience.”
Only at one point in our discussion does he allow something harsh about his successor. “I always thought,” he says, “that bin Laden was a bigger threat than the Bush administration did....”

“I also wish,” he continues, “I desperately wish, that I had been president when the FBI and CIA finally confirmed, officially, that bin Laden was responsible for the attack on the U.S.S. Cole. Then we could have launched an attack on Afghanistan early. I don’t know if it would have prevented 9/11, but it certainly would have complicated it.”

Oh really? According to the 9/11 Commission report, you knew bin Laden was planning an attack on the US long before you left office. Yet you hamstrung the CIA unit assigned to bin Laden:

By early 1997, the UBL Station knew that Bin Ladin was not just a financier but an organizer of terrorist activity. It knew that al Qaeda had a military committee planning operations against U.S. interests worldwide and was actively trying to obtain nuclear material. Although this information was disseminated in many reports, the unit’s sense of alarm about Bin Ladin was not widely shared or understood within the intelligence and policy communities. Employees in the unit told us they felt their zeal attracted ridicule from their peers.

In 1997 CIA headquarters authorized U.S. officials to begin developing a network of agents to gather intelligence inside Afghanistan about Bin Ladin and his organization and prepare a plan to capture him. By 1998 DCI Tenet was giving considerable personal attention to the UBL threat.

Senior NSC staff members told us they believed the president’s intent was clear: he wanted Bin Ladin dead. On successive occasions, President Clinton issued authorities instructing the CIA to use its proxies to capture or assault Bin Ladin and his lieutenants in operations in which they might be killed. The instructions, except in one defined contingency, were to capture Bin Ladin if possible.
Senior legal advisers in the Clinton administration agreed that, under the law of armed conflict, killing a person who posed an imminent threat to the United States was an act of self-defense, not an assassination. As former National Security Adviser Berger explained, if we wanted to kill Bin Ladin with cruise missiles, why would we not want to kill him with covert action? Clarke’s recollection is the same.

But if the policymakers believed their intent was clear, every CIA official interviewed on this topic by the Commission, from DCI Tenet to the official who actually briefed the agents in the field, told us they heard a different message. What the United States would let the military do is quite different, Tenet said, from the rules that govern covert action by the CIA. CIA senior managers, operators, and lawyers uniformly said that they read the relevant authorities signed by President Clinton as instructing them to try to capture Bin Ladin, except in the defined contingency. They believed that the only acceptable context for killing Bin Ladin was a credible capture operation.

“We always talked about how much easier it would have been to kill him,” a former chief of the UBL Station said. Working-level CIA officers said they were frustrated by what they saw as the policy restraints of having to instruct their assets to mount a capture operation. When Northern Alliance leader Massoud was briefed on the carefully worded instructions for him, the briefer recalls that Massoud laughed and said, “You Americans are crazy. You guys never change.”

Regarding Saddam Hussein, according to former CIA director James Woolsey, your administration had evidence of Iraqi involvement in the 1995 Oklahoma city bombing as well as the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, yet you failed to take action.

CWCID: John Podhoretz, who comments:

Oh, Bill, Bill, Bill. Everybody knew it was Bin Laden. You knew it was Bin Laden at the time. Richard Clarke in his book says you specifically ruled out military action after the Cole in October 2000 because you wanted to try once again to get an Israel-Palestinian peace deal. Get real. Oh, wait, I'm talking about Bill Clinton here.

Exactly. VC: your one-stop shopping destination for flogging of dead equine flesh...

Posted by Cassandra at 07:14 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

August 16, 2005

Only Nixon Can Go To China

While driving home last week on the Beltway, I heard something truly remarkable. Something that filled my heart with hope.

And since that time, I have heard nothing more about it. Not in the newspaper. Not on my television. Not on the radio. And when, at last, I typed several search terms into Google this morning, I was dismayed at how little I found. This is the only post I will write today, and it will remain at the top of my site for the next week. It is that important. And though you may disagree with what I am about to write, I hope you will read it carefully, and think about it, and even perhaps consider sending it to a friend, for I think it shameful that this is not getting more attention.

On July 28th, the North American Fiqh Council of Islam issued a fatwah against terrorism.

This is what we have been calling for since September 11th. Although some have criticized the language, and some have said it does not go far enough, if you read it I think you will be surprised at just how much it does say. And if you think anything like the way I do, you may well be angry. You may well wonder why the text of this fatwa is not front-page news all over America:

The Fiqh Council of North America wishes to reaffirm Islam's absolute condemnation of terrorism and religious extremism.

Islam strictly condemns religious extremism and the use of violence against innocent lives. There is no justification in Islam for extremism or terrorism. Targeting civilians' life and property through suicide bombings or any other method of attack is haram – or forbidden - and those who commit these barbaric acts are criminals, not "martyrs."

The Qur'an, Islam's revealed text, states: "Whoever kills a person [unjustly]…it is as though he has killed all mankind. And whoever saves a life, it is as though he had saved all mankind." (Qur'an, 5:32)

Prophet Muhammad said there is no excuse for committing unjust acts: "Do not be people without minds of your own, saying that if others treat you well you will treat them well, and that if they do wrong you will do wrong to them. Instead, accustom yourselves to do good if people do good and not to do wrong (even) if they do evil." (Al-Tirmidhi)

God mandates moderation in faith and in all aspects of life when He states in the Qur'an: "We made you to be a community of the middle way, so that (with the example of your lives) you might bear witness to the truth before all mankind." (Qur'an, 2:143)

In another verse, God explains our duties as human beings when he says: "Let there arise from among you a band of people who invite to righteousness, and enjoin good and forbid evil." (Qur'an, 3:104)

Islam teaches us to act in a caring manner to all of God's creation. The Prophet Muhammad, who is described in the Qur'an as "a mercy to the worlds" said: "All creation is the family of God, and the person most beloved by God (is the one) who is kind and caring toward His family."

In the light of the teachings of the Qur'an and Sunnah we clearly and strongly state:

1. All acts of terrorism targeting civilians are haram (forbidden) in Islam.

2. It is haram for a Muslim to cooperate with any individual or group that is involved in any act of terrorism or violence.

3. It is the civic and religious duty of Muslims to cooperate with law enforcement authorities to protect the lives of all civilians.

We issue this fatwa following the guidance of our scripture, the Qur'an, and the teachings of our Prophet Muhammad – peace be upon him. We urge all people to resolve all conflicts in just and peaceful manners.

We pray for the defeat of extremism and terrorism. We pray for the safety and security of our country, the United States, and its people. We pray for the safety and security of all inhabitants of our planet. We pray that interfaith harmony and cooperation prevail both in the United States and all around the globe.


Before going on, I would like you to listen to this interview with Muzammil Siddiqi, chairman of the Fiqh Council of North America. He says a number of very interesting things, among them:

- the fatwa applies outside North America, to any Muslim, who is forbidden to kill any civilian, even during time of war. The targetting of civilians is strictly forbidden by Muslim law. Acts of terror against civilians are forbidden, whether performed by individuals or states. He says even Palestinians are wrong to target cafes and buses containing civilian men, women, and children. This is truly a remarkable statement for a major Muslim leader to make. Why is it not in the news?

- a very interesting point: the conflation of "Islamic" and "terrorism" in the media is a big mistake, for it lends legitimacy and dignity to their acts in the minds of many Muslims. It can create sympathy for the terrorists by making them sound like one of them. He says, "do not call them 'Islamic terrorists'" - make them small - outsiders - so no one will feel sorry for them. Listen to his reasoning. It requires an open mind, but it is a very interesting point.

- he states unequivocally that Israelis have the right to live in peace and security in the Middle East

- he says Muslims living in Western nations must adapt, not adopt, to Western culture and respect the laws of their adopted nation. He says they teach that American Muslims are extremely lucky, for [I am paraphrasing here] "Though it allows many things God says we must not do, in the US, there is no law that tells Muslims they must do that which God says is forbidden. This is a very good thing for us."

Listening to the interview, I heard a man who is very passionate in his beliefs and a strong advocate for the rights of Muslims. But I also heard a man who, I think, is open to compromise. The American Jewish Congress responded cautiously, but I think, correctly to news of the fatwa:

Obviously any sincere condemnation of all forms of terrorism by bona fide religious leaders of the Muslim community would be a welcome development. So, we would like to be able to applaud the statement of the Fiqh Council without reservation. What troubles us, and leads to hesitancy, are reports that some of those involved in the issuance of the Fiqh Council statement have been past supporters or advocates for terrorism, causing skepticism over whether their statement can be taken at face value. On the other hand, because radicals play so dominant a role in the leadership of the Muslim community, if we insist in accepting only statements issued by those people with perfectly clean hands, there may be no one who holds a position of acknowledged leadership capable of issuing a statement that will be taken seriously by other Muslims.

Past statements by moderate Muslims condemning terrorism suffered from the deficiency that they had little impact, while statements by more-radical Muslims until now were ambiguous about whether acts of terrorism against Israel and Israelis were included in the condemnation. Ironically, because the current unequivocal statement comes from those with radical credentials it is likely to have far greater impact than past pronouncements in putting an end to the acceptability of terror. Essentially, "only Nixon can go to China."

Exactly. If anyone has cause to be skeptical here, it is Jewish leaders. But if they are willing to extend the benefit of the doubt I don't see how we can do any less. I was very disturbed to see many on the Right side of the blogosphere dismissing the fatwah as mere lip-service:

In fact, the fatwa is bogus. Nowhere does it condemn the Islamic extremism ideology that has spawned Islamic terrorism. It does not renounce nor even acknowledge the existence of an Islamic jihadist culture that has permeated mosques and young Muslims around the world. It does not renounce Jihad let alone admit that it has been used to justify Islamic terrorist acts. It does not condemn by name any Islamic group or leader. In short, it is a fake fatwa designed merely to deceive the American public into believing that these groups are moderate. In fact, officials of both organizations have been directly linked to and associated with Islamic terrorist groups and Islamic extremist organizations. One of them is an unindicted co-conspirator in a current terrorist case; another previous member was a financier to Al-Qaeda.

First let me address this:

Nowhere does it condemn the Islamic extremism ideology that has spawned Islamic terrorism.

Not true. Look at the text of the fatwah - it is quite clear on that point:

Islam strictly condemns religious extremism...There is no justification in Islam for extremism or terrorism.

Prophet Muhammad said there is no excuse for committing unjust acts: "Do not be people without minds of your own, saying that if others treat you well you will treat them well, and that if they do wrong you will do wrong to them. Instead, accustom yourselves to do good if people do good and not to do wrong (even) if they do evil." (Al-Tirmidhi)

Golden Rule, anyone? Do unto others as you would have them do unto you? Turn the other cheek? Return good for evil? Where have I heard that before? I know this will make people angry, but this is the plain meaning of these words, rendered in English. There is no wiggle room - the meaning is inescapable.

God mandates moderation in faith and in all aspects of life when He states in the Qur'an: "We made you to be a community of the middle way, so that (with the example of your lives) you might bear witness to the truth before all mankind." (Qur'an, 2:143)

By my reckoning, roughly 1/3 of the fatwah was devoted to renouncing extremism. And though the fatwah does not renounce jihad (war), it strictly forbids targeting of innocent civilians or any violence against civilians. This is huge. If you are fair, you will admit that even the United States is not ever going to issue a statement renouncing war.

Could the fatwah go farther? Of course. But it goes farther than anything that has come before and it speaks volumes. There is little use in complaining about the taste of the water when there is nothing else to drink. Had the London bombers followed this fatwah, that tragic day would never have come to pass.

Yes, a fatwah is only words, but words have meaning. Getting over 145 Muslim organizations to endorse this fatwah is not mere lip-service. This is how hearts and minds are changed - one step at a time. And we cannot have it both ways: condemning the Muslim community for not taking a public stand against terrorism and then dismissing them as hypocrites when they do.

What kind of message do we send to the Islamic community when they take such a step, and our media ignore it? Or worse, when we sneer at their efforts? After what just happened in London, can we afford to squander the goodwill of the Muslim families living in our midst?

I have argued before that we are in a war against radical Islam, which is not true Islam at all, but a perversion of that religion no different than that evil cancer which caused early Christians to persecute Jews and led to horrors like the Inquisition. No religion is immune to extemism within its midst, but that does not make the religion itself evil. As I have also argued, it was Christians who ended slavery. Judeo-Christian values and ideology form the basis for our culture and our modern jurisprudence: for the tolerance and openness enjoyed by Western civilization to this day. To blame Islam for the extremists in its midst is just as foolish an error as to blame modern Christians for the excesses of a few wingnuts on the fringes.

The important thing now is to make common cause with those moderates within the Muslim community who are taking a stand against violent extremism. This movement can be strengthened, or it can die for lack of oxygen. Listening to Siddiqi's interview, it is obvious that he was vastly heartened by his visit to the White House after September 11th - a visit that Bush was much criticized for, as I remember.

I am a Marine wife and the mother of a police officer. My husband was inside the Pentagon on September 11th, right around the corner from where that plane hit. Too close for comfort. My son patrols the streets of Arlington, VA, which scares me a bit when I hear news like the London attacks and he gets scrambled to help provide extra security for the Metro. Believe me, I am not insensitive to the number of our war dead, nor to the nature of the enemy we are fighting. Quite to the contrary: I have long argued that we must not be complacent. That we must not allow political correctness to keep us from enforcing appropriate security measures.

There is an old saying that is particularly applicable to this situation: trust, but verify. We do not have to be blindly trusting, but I think if we are blindly paranoid and petty, we lose what could be our most valuable ally in the War on Terror. Do not forget that third element of the fatwah:

It is the civic and religious duty of Muslims to cooperate with law enforcement authorities to protect the lives of all civilians.

Just think: if that had been in place on September 11th.

It is in place now. Do not allow hatred and prejudice to blind you to the first steps toward what could be a very useful partnership. And though I agree with this gentleman that more is needed, do not let the perfect become the enemy of the good.

CWCID: Michelle Malkin for the Counterterrorism link.

Posted by Cassandra at 12:36 PM | Comments (30) | TrackBack

Clarence Page's Feelings

Clarence Page is angry. Watching Cindy Sheehan camp out in Crawford, Texas, he feels he and other doubters are being stifled. He feels for the 30% of Americans who now feel we should withdraw all troops from Iraq.

There seems to be a bumper crop of feeling going on lately. A lot of feeling, and not much thinking. The title of Mr. Page's editorial is: Mr. President, can we talk about the war too?

Just who has been preventing you from talking about the war, Mr. Page? You and the hundreds of annoying, ankle-biting pundits who occupy the bully pulpit in America, who don't have to live with the consequences of your sniping and your thoughtless criticisms, who have done nothing but talk, talk, talk since we went into Iraq and Afghanistan? One can't help but wonder if all your talk doesn't have something to do with those poll results you so conveniently cite.

You talk, while the military fight, and die, and continue to slog onward in an uphill battle you undermine with every word you publish.

You snark away, while they bleed.

It seems to me that if anyone is having trouble getting a word in edgewise in this debate, it's the administration and the military. They don't control the cameras. They don't control the newspapers. When the President wants to address the nation, he has to fight to get an hour of prime-time airspace. The major networks, more often than not, don't carry the speeches he makes all over this country. His words don't get out to the general public, or if they do they are often twisted beyond all recognition.

And any good news from the military side of the house is ruthlessly strangled before it ever sees the light of day, while bad news is promoted 24/7 on the airwaves and in our newspapers by a media who are relentlessly anti-war and anti-administration.

Who was Cindy Sheehan's son? Casey - that was his name, wasn't it? I'll bet he was a good man. But was he a hero? Did he perform feats of honor and bravery on the battlefield? We all know her name - we hear about it everywhere we go. Yet the names of great Americans who have served this nation with honor and distinction are not considered newsworthy. When our troops succeed on the battlefield, when they earn medals, this news does not make it into the mainstream media.

And so I have a question for you, Mr. Page: you've had your say.

When do we get to talk about the war? The parents of the fallen who are not bitter and angry? Americans who support the administration? 9/11 families who don't blame President Bush?

Those who have served or died in Iraq and Afghanistan? Why are these voices not allowed to speak? Or doesn't the Bill of Rights apply to those who spend their lives defending it? Perhaps it is not President Bush who needs to listen.

124rafaelperalta.jpg Sgt. Rafael Peralta didn't have to become a United States Marine. And he didn't have to go to war. That's just the kind of man he was.

He joined the Marine Corps the day after he received his green card. On the walls of his bedroom, there were only three items: the United States Constitution, the Bill of Rights and his boot camp graduation certificate. You can see the mind of this hero in his letters he diligently wrote home to his younger brother and sister. Before he left America, he wrote his 14-year old brother Ricardo,

"be proud of me, bro...and be proud of being an American."

Ricardo and his sister would receive another letter from their brother:

"I was just doing my homework and there was a knock on the door," said Ricardo Peralta, 14. "The moment I saw them, I knew."

In his letter to Ricardo, Rafael said he was doing something he had always wanted to do. He asked Ricardo to be proud of him because the Marines were making history in Iraq.

Rafael had been killed during an assault on Fallujah.

His body took most of the blast. One Marine was seriously injured, but the rest sustained only minor shrapnel wounds. Cpl. Brannon Dyer told a reporter from the Army Times, "He saved half my fire team."

Most Americans have never heard of Rafael Peralta, and they never will.

In past wars, he would have been a hero. His name would have been a household word, his deeds an inspiration to small boys, their eyes growing wide with amazement at his sacrifice. The chests of old men would have puffed out in pride. Crusty veterans would have stood a bit taller, remembering their own service. Women would have grown misty-eyed, and young girls would have laid flowers on his grave, wiping away a tear as they dreamed of handsome heroes.

But they will never hear of him - his voice has been silenced. The mainstream media does not consider the sacrifices of men like Sgt. Rafael Peralta "newsworthy". The mainstream media do not seem interested in talking to Sgt. Peralta's family. Instead, we get to hear about Cindy Sheehan all day, every day.

Search results:

Chicago Tribune: Rafael Peralta: 0
Cindy Sheehan: 10

Washington Post: Rafael Peralta: 0
Cindy Sheehan: 27

NY Times: Rafael Peralta: 0
Cindy Sheehan: 20

I'll bet unless you happened to catch the single story in the Washington Post, you never heard about the heroics of three young Marines who single-handedly stopped a suicide bombing attack consisting of not one, but TWO trucks - a dump truck and a fire engine - full of explosives.

That, too, was not considered newsworthy by most of the mainstream media - since none of our forces were killed and the camp was saved from certain destruction due to the heroics of three men barely old enough to be out of high school. Contradicting the constant stream of stories about disgruntled troops on the verge of mutiny, their CO wrote home:

Once again the good Lord looked upon us, and the Marines executed flawlessly, which were the reasons for the enemy paying dearly for their decisions. The Marines are fine. I am so unbelievably proud to be here with them. Motivation and dedication to each other, our families, and our mission couldn't be higher. As a unit, as a company, we continue to grow each day, understanding and appreciating each individual effort to protect, serve, and strengthen the company as a whole. The Marines are at times tired yet tireless in their duties, enduring hardships yet hardened against weak mindedness, and exposed to tough conditions but have toughened in mind, body, and soul.